Posts Tagged With: home

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

100: Site Visit

Chelsi watched the time on her watch roll by from 14:00 to 14:01. “Alright, well I guess I’m not too surprised no one’s here.”

“Is this normal?” Zach, a new RAP trainee asked. “That just no one shows up to your programs?”

“In my area, yeah, it’s pretty par for the course.” Chelsi responded with a voice free from bitterness.  With only three weeks remaining in her village, she found herself freed of the feelings of anger and frustration she had felt.  Mostly because those feelings were being overcome with anxiety and uncertainty of what was to happen once she left her house for the last time.

She had the plan laid out the best she could; pull from site, spend a few days in Solwezi, start hitching Tuesday morning, arrive no later than Wednesday to Lusaka. Arrangements for Daisy’s extended stay at the kennel in Lusaka had already been made.  Then there will be ring out, I’ll spend a few days in Lusaka, figure out how to get to Siavonga, set up the house there, go back to Lusaka, then leave for home leave.  In her mind is all worked out more fluid that water; but she knew better than to trust the best laid plans…

“So then? What do we do?” This was Zach’s first time in the village, having arrived in Zambia about two months prior. Up until his arrival at Chelsi’s house earlier that week, Peace Corps had kept him, like all volunteers in training, in a tightly controlled environment, where the realities of everyday living as a volunteer were rarely discussed.

“Well, I’m going to go out and find the people who said they would be here for the program and make them come.” All around it was far from an ideal situation but it was her responsibility to make sure that the new trainees got full exposure to life as volunteer. In three days they would be on their own in the village for the weekend and after returning to Lusaka for two week they would be posted to their villages and on their own. “Just wait here with Adam and Amanda, and Jeremy and I’ll be back in a bit.”

Chelsi walked off her porch all bent over and towards the road.  Daisy came bounding out of the bushes after her.  She was baffled that the girls hadn’t come.  For two weeks the girls from GLOW, Peace Corps girls’ empowerment camp, had been excited about teaching some of the things that they had learned at camp. But now that the time came there was no one to be seen.

Chelsi and Daisy walked up the dust road collecting girls, and some boys, along the way. ‘Didn’t you remember? We were supposed to be making copper rings today,’ she asked them as they followed her back to the house.  They nodded along, smiling happily. Chelsi’s departure still felt like a lifetime away to them.  ‘But if we can’t make copper rings today, then we will tomorrow,’ they responded.

There’s always tomorrow here, Chelsi thought to herself.  And it’ll be the same as today, the same as yesterday. Two years of worth of yesterdays, and today, and it’s still all about tomorrow.

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

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

094: Community House

Chelsi sighed and rubbed her temples.  She had volunteered to take on the responsibility of hosting site visit in April on a whim.  She was in Lusaka, hanging around the office, riding a really good mood having just returned from her whirlwind Zambia tour, when one of her program managers mentioned that no Kaonde speaking aquaculture volunteers had applied to host site visit for the 2017 intake; she had shrugged her shoulders, unsurprised, and causally offered her site.

Regret was too strong a word to describe what she was feeling now, but the responsibility turned out to be more work than she anticipated.  Her memory of site visit from two years ago was mostly just hanging out, shooting the shit, eating really amazing food she would never eat again in the village.  She remembered doing a few language lessons, but it hadn’t occurred to her that she would be responsible for finding a place for the language and technical trainers to stay.

She stared out across the common room of her house. Daisy was stretched out on the couch taking a midmorning nap.  Tulip was curled up on the end of her table.  One things for sure though, I’m not going to find a homestay sitting in my house. She stood up to fetch her socks and shoes.  Not ideal rainy season footwear, but after two years she had worn through all her other options.

“Come on, let’s go Daisy.” The dog casually opened her eyes and twitched the end of her tail.  Chelsi moved to stand in the doorway. “Come on, let’s go,” she urged her.  Daisy yawned, stretched her legs, rolled over to stand up, shook herself out and hopped off the couch.  Chelsi closed the door behind them and fastened it shut with her padlock.

It was a rare warm sunny day. Most days of rainy season are cold, damp and cloudy.  Out on the dirt road they started walking towards the school.  The informational email suggested local teachers for homestay, Chelsi remembered.  Maybe there’s an extra room in Mr. Musheka’s house. They walked on towards the community school.

Crossing the grassy field towards the school block, it seemed awfully quiet.  Approaching the building Chelsi could see the classrooms were empty.  She looked at her watch; 11:30.  He should be letting them out in 30 minutes or so, but where is everybody now?  The two circled round to the back of the building.  The grass stood four feet high in the field behind the school block.  Daisy raced off into it.  Chelsi followed her pondering where all the students might have gone.  Perhaps they just went out to do some work. It wasn’t unheard of for teachers to ‘rent out’ the labor of their students to do things like pull weeds in fields or slash yards. I’m sure they’ll be back soon. 

Chelsi and Daisy looked for little critters and flowers in the grass.  5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, went by and still no students, no teacher.  But Chelsi continued to wait, 5 more minutes, 10 more minutes, 20 more minutes, the sky started to look cloudy. She called Daisy back out of the bush. “I don’t think anyone’s coming today,” she said to Daisy.

They started to make their way back through the grass, and across the school yard.  Chelsi diverted down a short cut close to the church.  A couple of men stood in the church yard bagging charcoal.

“Mwabuuka,” Chelsi greeted them. They turned around to reply and Chelsi recognized one as the brother of a friend of hers. “How are you?” she asked, walking up to him directly.

“Us, we are fine.” He was an older man, who lived mostly in town. When they did see each other he was always polite and kind. Chelsi wished she could remember his name.

“Do you know where all the students have gone?” she figured she might as well see if there’s an explanation.

“You mean they are not there by the school?”

“No, we came to talk to Ba Musheka, and we’ve been waiting for an hour now, and nobody’s come.”

They looked at the few other men who were standing around.  But they all shrugged and shook their heads.

“You see,” Chelsi started, “I have some teachers coming from Lusaka the first week of April. They can bring bedding and food, they just need somewhere to stay. Since they’re teachers, I thought maybe Mr. Musheka, but he doesn’t seem to be around.”

“Oh, well,” he paused, “I wish it was in town. But, there is an extra house, just that side.” He pointed in the general direction of his family’s compound. “It’s not all finished, but the iron sheets are there.”

Chelsi’s heart lightened, this was even better. “That’s okay, we still have some time to get it together. Can we go and see?”

“Yes, if you come by in the afternoon, you will find me there. I just need to finish here.”

Chelsi smiled and nodded, “tusakumonaangana. We will see each other.” With that they departed.

Categories: Adventure, DIY | 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

086: TAZARA

​“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!” Chelsi screamed as her body was suddenly lurched forward, buckling her knees and slamming them into the metal bench of the train’s third class passenger seating.  But no one could hear her over the train’s screeching.  She gripped the back rest of the bench and braced herself the oncoming halt of the train car.

As the trains pace quicken, the screeching soften so that Chelsi could hear her friend Jason’s wet laughter, “This mother fucking train! You just don’t know what the train’s gonna do!”

It’s true, in the truest sense of itself, Chelsi thought, gripping the bench tighter. It was hard to keep herself from relaxing. She knew, as soon as she let go the train would come to an abrupt halt, probably throwing me on to the ground.  And sure enough, in a matter of moments the train car’s wheels let out a deafening screech, and Chelsi was jerked backwards.  

Quickly, she relaxed her position and started re-stuffing her backpack before the train engineer decided to give ‘going forward’ another try.  “Neal!” Chelsi called over her shoulder.  “Are you still glad we decided to take the train back to Zambia?” She risked a quick glance over her shoulder to see his reaction.  

“Are you kidding?” A semi-smile was stretched over his face. “This is great.  We get to see the train derail, then we get to see it fixed. And look how fast and kind of efficient it’s getting fixed.” Neal took a quick glance at his watch, “We’re only a total of 18 hours behind schedule.  Had the train derailed another 30 kilometers further, in Zambia, we would have been screwed.”

“But so, do you think this means we’re leaving the dining car behind?” Jason asked with a serious thread of concern in his voice.  But before anyone could inject their opinion the train car door towards the back of the train slid open. 

“If you could all go back to your first class cabin now,” a portly Zambian sounding man instructed them. “We will be starting again soon, and the next stop there are dangerous people. You need to go fast, fast.” His last fast, fast was covered up by the sudden forward lurch and screech of the train, and Jason, Sami, Neal and Chelsi being nearly thrown on to the floor.  

When all had recovered the portly Zambian man gave them one more “fast, fast,” before exiting the car. Their group followed closely behind, with Chelsi at the rear.  They reach out and steadied themselves using the back of the benches, when Neal turned around asking Chelsi to go back and make sure nothing was left behind.  

She was double checking under the bench, when she heard the train car door slide open behind her.  Looking over her shoulder she saw another Zambian man, a short skin one, compared to the portly gentleman of before. Righting herself, Chelsi made her way towards him and the exit to the car. 

“Mad ‘am, I just want you to give me,” he started.

But Chelsi cut him off, “No, I’m giving you anything.”

“But mad ’am,”

“No!” She yelled, and the whole train car went dark.  What did he mean when he said ‘there are dangerous people at the next stop? It had been a long time since Chelsi last felt uneasy in Zambia.  When the train pulled out of the tunnel, Chelsi pushed past the man standing and front of her and hurried to the back of the train to be with her friends.  

She reach first class cabin number six and pulled back the door. “Oh look! It was nice of them to remake our beds.” Chelsi surveyed the small cabin; two bench-bunks against either wall with a short table between, and above one more bunks above each lower bench-bunk. Laid out across the tight leather bound foam of each bunk was a blanket, bed sheet and pillow. “Neal can you help me get this up there?” Chelsi motioned her hand to the luggage compartment above the door way.  

“Sure,” and he stood up, relieving her of backpack, hoisting it above his head and into the alcove. But before he could properly regain his seat, he was jerked back into it by the stopping of the train car.  Chelsi’s shoulder was slammed into the door frame.  

Jason laughed, “God damn, it was not like this when Tyler and I took the train last time.”

“What do you think that guy meant when he said ‘there were dangerous people’ at the next stop?” Sami ask push the blonde strands of her hair out of her eyes.  Just then there was a sudden thud that shook the floor, but distinctly different from the lurching and jerking of the train so far.  Chelsi peered out, down the hallway, to see 200 kg worth of rice sacking being pushed into the train car by a Zambian man on the train platform.  

“Holy moly you guy, you’d better see this,” and Chelsi left the cabin doorway for the window just across, Jason, Sami and Neal closely behind.  Hanging their heads out the window they could see a people mobbing the train cars at the head of the train, pushing all sorts of goods through the doors and windows; mattresses, bags of maize and mealie meal, boxes of dishwares, baskets of fish.  

Neal turned back towards his friends from the window, “good thing that guy came by and told us to get out of there fast!”

“Looks like we’re not in Tanzania any more Toto,” Chelsi sighed. 

Categories: Action, Adventure, Horror, Thriller | 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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082: A Project Review

​Chelsi looked the man in front of her up and down one more time.  They said he was coming in from DC for this project review, Chelsi thought, but to her the only thing that seem DC-like was his smell and the crispness of clothes.  “You said you just came from doing a four week project review for Peace Corps in West Africa, right?”

The old grey haired man nodded his head.

“That’s a nice messenger bag you have too. It must be new.” Chelsi’s attention was drawn to it when she saw her cat, Tulip, climbing on it like a jungle gym.  

“Aww, naa.  I’ve had it some years now.  I just take care of it,” he said nonchalantly, scribbling a few things in his note pad.  It was a nice bag, but it clashed with is khaki safari outfit, complete with hat. 

“And how does West Africa compare to your time in Zambia so far?”

“Oh, well, southern Africa is much nicer.  Over there there’s some many people packed in such a small space you can’t eat your lunch without someone pissing on you shoes.” When the man had first sat down on her front porch, Chelsi had felt combative with him.  He wasn’t what she was expecting, having walked with an arrogant feeling air.  Though now, two hours into their conversation about her service and the Rural Aquaculture Promotion project, the funny air still lingered Chelsi was more bewildered by him then hostile towards him. “Zambia, it reminds me a lot more of my service in the DR Congo back in the late 70’s, early 80’s.”

“I know PC Congo used to have an Aquaculture program too,” rumors from the days of PC Congo.  No wonder he seems so strange to me, he’s like a mythical creature.

“Yes, that was my project,” he looked up at her through his spectacles, “and when it was finish and the time came, I wrote the Aquaculture program for Zambia.” He paused and flipped over to a new page in his notebook.  “So, we’ve talked about what a project review is, all the project particulars, training and project support for volunteers, where you’re at in your service and how the project goal are coming along here. Is there anything you want to add, that I can file with the report. Anything that we should take in to consideration when we make adjustments to the project framework?”

Chelsi sat, looking at him, turning her gaze to her scrubby looking front yard, back at him. “No, I don’t think so.  We’ve been sitting here for nearly two and a half hours.  I can’t imagine there’s something we missed.”

“Alright, then…” and he made a motion for his bag. 

“Wait, there is something.” She stopped and collected her thoughts. “There is something, something I think is really important, that I can’t imagine the other volunteers ever mentioning but something I have expressed to Donald now a couple of time.”

“Alright, then…” and he resettled himself in his chair.

“I mean, and maybe this isn’t even the proper place for this, but I think it fits, with Peace Corps’ “Do No Harm” motto. Like the box we have to fill out detailing potential environmental degradation when we write a grant.  But I think the RAP project framework needs the same thing.  Cause you know, when I look around, Zambia is a country of rivers, streams, wetlands, or at least it’s supposed to be.  And the whole purpose of this project is to basically be going out there and damming streams, and digging lots of huge holes in wetlands, and you couldn’t convince me that this isn’t seriously affecting hydrology, native, wild fish stock, etc. because I haven’t seen any peer reviewed studies on the subject.  I haven’t heard any casual conversation even. You should know, with your background in fisheries in the States, for two hundred year, early European settlers, up to the 1950’s, people in the States were damming up even the tiniest trickles of water on the landscapes, then in the 60’s and 70’s started looking around and wondering where all the fish went.  I know the Zambian government likes to blame the crashing fish stocks on overfishing, or my understanding of increased gear efficient with the introduction of mosquito nets and maybe some increasing efforts with a greater population. But it’s crazy not to consider the effects of the drastic land use changes that have been happening over the last, 25, 10, 5, even 2 years.  Even since I’ve been here the landscape looks different.  I mean, I get it kind of. It easier for the government to point its finger at that poor and/or rural people and say ‘You, you are the problem’ cause then the solution is simply to crack down on enforcement of illegal fishing. But changes in land use, that’s often the result of ‘development activities,’ the building of roads, pollution from cars, agricultural chemicals, trash, deforestation, rapid urbanization, poor sanitation, I mean I can go on and on and on, and that’s without even touching on the mining activity. But I think you get my point.  It’s impossible for a government like Zambia’s to monitor, let alone control. There’s no NGO that I’ve ever heard of even trying explore or monitor Zambia’s instream conditions, habitat connectivity, etc. And here Peace Corps volunteers are promoting the destruction of wetlands and spending grant money on the building of dams. Something we spend billions of dollars in the States trying to undo…  I don’t, if maybe the hope is that after Zambia improved is economic conditions it’ll be able to afford conservation efforts, habitat rehabilitation, ecosystem services. But that’s laughable, we can hardly do that in the States. But if of all this there is anything we know for sure it’s that prevention is better that cure, and, and, and I don’t know.  I think maybe we need Aquaculture volunteers to be working with in communities to improve the environment and take a stab at bring back wild fish stocks while there’s still a chance… if there is one.” Chelsi brought up her gaze which had drifted to the ground. “That all, I guess. I mean, I can go on longer, but I think you get what I’m trying to say.”

She watch as the project reviewer finished filling his new page with notes. “Your right. I don’t think any of the volunteers are going to mention all of that.”

When he finished, he tucked his notebook away.  They stood up and Chelsi replaced her chairs inside her house.  She locked the door, and the two started towards the road to look for her program staff, Cleopher and Frasier. 

“You’re a good volunteer Chelsi,” 

“How do you figure that?” she replied, curious as to what part of their conversation stood out to him on that matter.

“You think of this place as your home.”

Categories: Drama, Law, Justice and Order | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

081: Albert the Turkey

​“Just let me do it this year,” Chelsi had responded to Hannah and Sami’s email about preparing for Thanksgiving 2016.  “I just need you to make sure that the turkey arrives on Monday, alive and well.  DO NOT let them put it under the bus!”  What Chelsi had realized was that she just needed to make her instructions simple and clear. She was taking it upon herself to organize the meat course for this year, and rightly so, she thought, remembering last year’s ‘meat leader’ Paul, who had taken on the position out of some poorly placed sense of manly duty.  

“The entire time we were cutting up the pig last year he kept complaining that he was about to vomit.” Chelsi tried to explain to anyone who would listen.  

“So then what else do you need?” Hannah and Sami had responded after accepting her bid for the position.  

“Charcoal… Just charcoal. I’ll talk to Neal about what else he needs for the pig.” Slightly against her better judgement, Chelsi had delegated the task of cooking the pig to her nearest neighbor Neal.  She had been swayed by his genuine passion for the project and her confidence in her ability manage and rectify his inevitable failure. 

“He wants to put the pig in a pit, doesn’t he?” 

“Yeah…”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? Do you think it’ll work?”

“He’s very confident it’ll work, I think there’s about a fifty-fifty chance.  But this year I can guarantee that the turkey will be good and next year Neal will likely be the one leading the meat, so it’s better that he gets all of his wackiest ideas out of him now.”

When the day before Thanksgiving came, all preparations commenced.  A proverbial grave was dug, a funeral pyre lit inside and when the sun began to sink low on the horizon the pig, wrapped lovingly in banana leaves and chicken wire was buried in the pit. At that time, Chelsi could have sworn that she had seen a matching graving spring up just beside, all of your hopes and dreams, the headstone had read.  But Chelsi had walked away with confidence in her own project; dressing the turkey, Thanksgiving’s real star, she thought to herself. 

With some patience and agility the bird, who had been free to roam the expansive yard of the provincial office it’s last few days of life, was caught.  Though a larger crowd than Chelsi had expected showed up to watch the bird bleed out, it died well with little commotion. “Which is what you want,” she had instructed her friend and assistant Oliver.  “Next we’ll dip it in the water I’ve been heating on the brazier and we’ll feather it.”

The cleaning and cutting went smoothly, and nine plump piece of meat where dropped into brine and stored in the fridge till the next morning.  
“What time to you think we should unbury the pig?” Neal asked Chelsi Thanksgiving morning around the breakfast table.

Chelsi shrugged, “What’s your confidence level like that it’s finished?”

Neal paused for a moment in quiet reflection, “97%. I am 97% sure that in like an hour it will be perfectly done.”

“Alright then, I’ll meat you out there with a shovel.” Chelsi laughed, “get it? I’ll MEAT you out there?”

Chelsi passed the next hour rinsing, drying and rubbing her bird with barbeque spices and setting the fire on the brazier.  And when the time came she meandered out to the front yard.  

Neal and Oliver where on their hands and knees brushing aside the dirt over the pig.  “It doesn’t really feel warm…” Neal said with a strong strain of concern in his voice.  When the pig was finally uncovered and hoisted out the outlook was not promising.

“This, this little spot here is the only part that cooked.” Neal said, deflated but with rising inflections of worrying and haste in his voice.  

“So what do you want to do now?” Chelsi ask, feeling genuinely sorry that the scheme hadn’t been successful.  

“I don’t know… I don’t know, do you think it’s still safe to eat?”

Chelsi looked it over; it smells, but not unlike any piece of meat, the color’s fine, the flesh still has integrity. “I think its fine.  I got the grill going. Why don’t we just put it up there, cover it and see what happens.”

When Chelsi looked up, she could see Neal’s face covered in full blown panic.  A thousand reasons of doubt exploded from his mouth.  

“Since there is not much more we can do,” Chelsi tried to retain all of her cool, calm and collectedness, “let’s put on the grill and see what happens.”

With the effort Chelsi, Neal and Oliver managed to situate the pig on the grill and Chelsi was able to return her focus to the turkey.

For the last time, she removed the piece from the refrigerator, rinsed them then patted them dry.  She placed a grate over her fire and laid out the pieces as far from the fire as she could.  She checked her watch, about 4 hours till dinner, perfect.   

With the remaining time Chelsi bathed and dressed, and periodically turned her pieces on the fire.  She enjoyed the parade of fanciful dishes passing by; green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, freshly baked diner rolls, pies, cakes, cookies. Everything one would expect for a Thanksgiving feast.  

“And how’s the pig coming?” Chelsi asked Neal as the dinner hour approached. 

“I think it’s going to be okay.  It looks good, it smells fine.” And Chelsi couldn’t help but notice that the color in Neal’s face was looking better as well.  “Oliver and I are going to take it off the grill and remove all of the edible pieces.”

“Great, I think the turkey is done too.  I’m going to grab someone to help me pull it apart and plate it.”

After removing it from the brazier and setting it to rest, the meat pulled away perfectly from the bones of the bird. 

“Oh my goodness,” Chelsi’s friend Allison cried, “this has to be one of the best turkey’s I’ve ever tasted.”

“Thank you!” Chelsi said blushing.  
When the dinner table was complete, all the volunteers gathered around and shared what they were thankful for.  For Chelsi, it was finding family so far away from home.  

Categories: Adventure, DIY, Drama, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

077: Halloween

Chelsi carefully lifted the fire covered lid from the cast iron pan.  The scent of warm apples and cinnamon wafted by her nose.  It was her favorite holiday of the year, Halloween.  And while back in the States she would have decorated her house with colorful leaves and carved pumpkins, in Zambia it wasn’t yet pumpkin season and the only color of leaves to be found were green. Yet, as luck would have it, apples were available year round.  And what better way to get a festive use out of them, than to make a cake! Chelsi thought, gentle replacing the lid.

Heat from the brazier warmed the house, cooled by a recent rain.  She retook her seat in the stiff backed chair by the table.  Just enough light streamed through the window for her to see the picture she had been working on, and she hummed along to the Prairie Home Companion Halloween special steaming out of her phone as she drew:

Whenever you see the hearse go by; And think to yourself that you’re gonna die
Be merry my friends, be merry
They’ll put you in a big white shirt; And cover you over with tons of dirt
Be merry my friends, be merry
They’ll put you in a long shaped box; And cover you over with tons of rocks
Be merry my friends, be merry…

In addition to missing all the trapping of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, it was harder for Chelsi to conjure the festive fun the holiday usually brings along.  She couldn’t explain an American’s suspended disbelief in ghost, ghouls and goblins to her friends in the village because for them witches and spirits were really apart of daily life.  Every chameleon she found stoned on the side of the road was the persecution of a witch.  And just the other day Laura was telling me about a story she read in the newspaper, about a family found dead on the side of the highway through the Copperbelt.  ‘The going theory on their cause of death,’ Laura said, ‘is that they were witches.  They had shrunken themselves down to mount their flying bottle cap, which the father lost control of on their way to Lusaka.’ ‘In other words,’ Chelsi commented to clarify, ‘Death by flying bottle cap crash?’ ‘Yes…’  This year Chelsi would be satisfied with celebrating by herself.

As the sun sank past the horizon, Chelsi rose and collected to new white candles from their yellow storage basket, and two clean candle holders.  She affixed them together in the usual fashion, setting on the table and the other on the back window sill.  The aroma of apple cake now filled the house, a certain sign that it must be finished.  Carefully again, she removed the charcoal covered lid of the cast iron pan.  After depressing her forefinger into the cake it sprang back.  Chelsi smiled, and removed the pan from the brazier to a towel on the counter.  Cake safe, she deposited the coal from the lid into the brazier. Slipping through the propped open door, she brought out the remanence of her fire on to the front porch.  She over turned the brazier in one corner and piled the coal neatly on the cement.  Using a paint scraper, Chelsi removed the hardened ashes from the collection tray.  Back inside she refilled the brazier with fresh charcoal.  Just a sliver of the red sun could be seen on the horizon now, when she gazed through her back window.  She struck a match, lighting first the candle the table, then the one on the window sill before dropping it on to the brazier.

The house darkened quickly, though the candles burned down.  Chelsi watched as the little match raced towards its end.  When through the door came a sharp wind that sent Chelsi staggering back. The candles flickered wildly and the fire jumped, from the match to the charcoal.

Categories: Fantasy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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