Posts Tagged With: hut

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

101: Regret the Puppy

“Here we are,” Chandra said as the two women spilled out of the pickup truck that had given them a lift from Mutanda junction.  Their bags tumbled out on top of them.  When the truck door was shut the drive gave a slight nod of his head and pulled away.

“Where are we going?” Chelsi asked filling her arms with reusable grocery bags while trying to balance a box of strawberry plants on her head.

“The path way there by the red sign,” Chandra gestured to pathway on the other side of the tarmac road. The two women waddled across the road under their burdens, towards a neatly swept compound of houses.  About half way up the path a yellow puppy with an excited tail came bounding up to them.  “Oh, Regret, hi how are you?  This is my host brother’s puppy Regret.”

“Oh he’s so cute, he reminds me of Daisy when she was this size.  Just so excited about everything! Aren’t you so excited!” Chelsi cooed to the puppy. “Alright, which house is yours?” she asked starting to feel the weight of the bags in her arms.

“There, that one,” Chandra nodded to a tall house with a thick thatch roof that swooped down over the door, nestled between a standalone storage room and a long laundry line.  They closed the last few meters and Chandra balanced the box she was carrying as she fumbled for her keys.  She slipped the key into the lock, twisted it open and pulled back the bolt.  The door swung open, they stumbled in, opening their arms onto the floor. “Welcome to my home,” Chandra smiled. “Everything is kind of anywhere because I haven’t had the time to make any furniture yet.”  A rainbow of plastic basins was stacked in the far corner.  A myriad of kitchen utensils, pots, pans and mixing bowls were piled around a couple of large black food bins.  Prominently placed in the moderately sized sitting room was a familiar looking futon.

“Where the hell did you get a futon?” Chelsi asked, bewildered, trying to take in her surroundings.

“No, Regret, you stay outside,” she scolded the little puppy, who connected his backend with her door mat. “What do you mean? It’s the futon from the Prov house. We got that new couch from Molly, so Laura said I can have this one.  Haven’t you noticed it’s been missing from the house for like, eight months?” Chandra laughed.

Chelsi and Chandra went about unpacking and organizing their things.  Chelsi only had with her a day pack, the pack she a taken with her when she left Jeremy alone in her house for site visit.  This was the last day of site visit, and Chelsi could have gone home that afternoon.  But I have what? 10 days left in the Kamijiji house?  What difference is a couple of days going to make?  So she decided to go home with her friend Chandra, a health volunteer whose house was another 50 km down the turn off to Chelsi’s house

The rest of the evening passed relatively uneventfully.  When they finished unpacking Chandra introduced Chelsi to her host family.  Her sisters welcomed Chelsi warmly, with hugs and smiles. All the while Regret the puppy was tow, wiggling his body and lapping excitedly at his nose.  Chandra’s host family scolded him when he got too close to the cooking pots, but otherwise treated him gently.

After a dinner of rice and vegetable the two women tucked themselves into bed.

The next morning Chandra started the brazier and Chelsi cooked the eggs.  When their plates were clean Chandra went off to greet her family for the day, let them know about the programs she had going on for the day.  Chelsi hung back to finish washing the dishes from the night before.  When Chandra returned her face was painted with distress. “My host parents said that Regret got hit by a car this morning over by the borehole.  He went with my host sisters to fetch water this morning, and a car that had pulled of the tarmac clipped his back end.”

“Is he okay? Well I mean, obviously not,” Chelsi started to stand up.

“He’s over there, curled up in the bush with my host brother.  They asked if we had any medicine for him.” She hesitated, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, let’s go have a look,” Chelsi was nervous that the injury would be gruesome, but walked over to the bushes where the boys were standing around.  They watched as she approached.  One of the smaller boys was making an attempt to catch the puppy, who Chelsi faintly see between the brush was limping about. Well he’s walking for now, so that’s good. 

By the time Chelsi and Chandra closed the space between the house and the bushes the boy had chased the puppy up against a wall of brush.  He was curled up tightly in a ball.  The rear foot on top was starting to swell rapidly.  “Oh baby boy, who’s such a brave puppy,” Chelsi used the voice she used to calm Daisy whenever she needed a shot.  “Are you being such a good a boy,” she continued crouching down. The boys both backed away and leaned closer.  “I know it hurts, but you’re being so brave,” She lifted the top leg gently see the other one.

Where skin had been torn away, dirt, sticks and leave were stuck to exposed muscle. There was a limited about a bleeding around the ends of the torn skin, and this paw wasn’t swelling as fast.  It could have been a lot worse.  “Alright baby boy, let’s get you cleaned up.” Chelsi scooped Regret up gently, cradling him against her chest.

“How is he?” Chandra, who was still standing closer to the house, asked.

“It not as bad as it could have been.  He really needs some stitches and a split, but do you have some gauze, ace bandages, antibiotic cream, some alcohol pads.” Chelsi adjusted her arms around Regret and kneeled to pick up Chandra’s welcome mat.  She crossed the few meters between Chandra’s front door and her chinzanza, shook out the mat and laid the puppy down on top of it. “There you go baby boy,”  He made a lame attempt to stand up and move away but kept him down by scratching behind his ears and placing a kiss on the end of his nose.

Chandra came out of her house with the supplies Chelsi asked for.  She placed them down beside the puppy in the chinzanza. “Iiii, that doesn’t look good.  That kind of stuff really grosses me out.”

Chelsi start picking the large debris out of Regret’s wounds.  She talked to him gently all the while and he eventually let his head rest on the mat, resigned to his fate of being helped.  As she worked, the pile of debris, alcohol pads and gauze wrappers grew high before Chelsi was satisfied with her work.  She finished by securing the gauze with the ace bandage and stroked Regret’s neck.  She would have liked to wrap the other paw to help control the swelling, but there was only one bandage and keeping the open wounds clean was more important she decided.   “Alright baby boy, you’re all set. Tomorrow I’ll change your bandages again.  Now don’t play to rough on it.” She smiled and the puppy looked up as she backed away.  “I’ll ask Chandra for some water for you.”

“How is he?” Chandra asked hearing her name.

“Time will tell.”

Categories: Action, DIY, Drama, Health & Fitness, Horror | 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

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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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

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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038: Stupid Smartphone

Ahhh!” Chelsi exclaimed in frustration at her phone.  Whenever she tried to check her email, Peace Corps favorite way of keeping in touch, the screen of her phone went dark and she had to hold down the power button to boot it back up. “I hate this!”
Chelsi had purchased her first smartphone ever after arriving in Zambia.  She felt reluctant at first, seeing as how she had made it all that time in the States without one while everyone else she knew there was glued to the glow of their screen.  ‘How is it then that I would need one in Zambia, where there isn’t even WiFi?’ she reasoned aloud with her friend Rachel.
‘You don’t need WiFi,’ Rachel explained. ‘You can use data. To check your email, facebook, write your blog.’
‘Woah, how do you get data?’ She was a novice, what was for sure.
While standing in the MTN, mobile network store, the point she was convinced that she would be best off purchasing a smartphone, she picked out a phone that factory made, sported a rubbery casing and a screen size about half of what her peers had selected.  I need to adjust slowly, she thought.
Over the course of the past year she had cultivated a complex love/hate relationship with the device.  This was a hate streak.
Chelsi was waiting on time sensitive email responses from her program manager about teaching a rabbit harvest workshop in Mafumbwe, and a co-worker from her time working with Forest Service about an anti-malaria/ bat house project she conceived a few weeks before.  Also in her email were the directions to register for an international absentee ballot for the 2016, instructions so kindly handed out by Peace Corps, two weeks before the applications are due. 
The purple LG globe glowed once again on her screen.  Her heart raced and her palms sweat, “please work.”
How had it come to this? How has this little itty, bitty machine come to be such a powerful force in my life that it can throw me in to such an emotional state!
“Yes, there is the ability to place and receive calls, both under the necessity of an emergency and for the general emotionally uplifting conversation with a familiar voice form home. But still…” The screen changed to a hue of pink. Among cotton-candy clouds, an elephant floated in the background, topped off in a bright red party hat. The phone felt through its innards to bring up what it can recall to the screen. She knew it wasn’t the same, but viscerally she felt the same way she figured she would if she were comforting a dear friend with epilepsy, or maybe narcolepsy. “Seeing as I use it to keep in touch with family and friends, here and at home, chat, post my blog, I would feel incredibly lonely without.” And not just without friends, but news from NPR, podcasts that keep me company when I work out in the yard, books as I eat dinner, movies while I lie in bed, drinking tea, falling asleep
After giving it a few moments to collect itself she knocked in the passcode to bring her into the machine, to her home screen.  She smiled when she was greeted with the sleeping face of her tiny puppy, resting on her pursue; the blue background a sharp contrast to the previous pink.  The icons blinked, first little green android monsters, than the more familiar shapes denoting different apps. 
Chelsi held her breath as her phone searched for network.  Moreover, if I had to replace it, it would take a while before I could afford it. Probably. The phone she had now, she had paid 800kw when she bought it in Lusaka, using American currency she had brought and converted for that purpose.  The Kwacha had lost a third of its value since she arrive the previous year; and yet for some unexplainable reason everything on the market increased in price by half, or sometimes doubled. 
A few little white bar popped up at the top of her screen. She let her breath out, she felt hopeful. She switched on her data and refreshed her email. 
“That’s it, I’m done.” She declared, walking into her bedroom, thrusting the phone with the pitch black screen on to her bookshelf.  “Just one more of a number of examples as to why we can’t have nice things.” She let the frustration out with her voice. “Zambia.”
‘Yeah, you’ll go through like a dozen phones while you’re here,’ the voices of by gone Zambia volunteers echoed in her head. Chelsi wasn’t giving up though, just putting it way for now.  After all, she knew that she usually predicted the pain of a future loss to be worse than it actually was when it came to pass.  “If it really is done for, I’ll feel better about it in a day or two when I revisit it.  And if not great.” She looked down at her darling Daisy, lying on her mat up against the wall. Her curly tail started to thump against the floor when their eyes met. Chelsi smiled

Categories: Drama, Science & Technology, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

036: Ginny the Cobra Killer

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

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

032: “it’s pretty weird”

It was just too absurd not to tell someone, but whom? Chelsi scrolled through her list of contacts. Who would really smile when they heard this?
She thought for a quite second about what to say before she held down the record button on her phone.
“So a week or so ago I acquired this ka kitten.  He’s maybe a pound…” She paused. No that’s not how I want to start. Erase.
“Over the last few nights Daisy’s been waking up in the middle of the night making these sounds that I can only describe as confusion.  They don’t sound angry or painful; just confused.  I’ve also recently acquired this ka tiny kitten. He’s all black and I call him Poppy, anyway, the other night when Daisy was making these confused sounds I turned on the flashlight to see what was going on and I saw Poppy over there with her.  So I’m thinking ‘okay, he’s cold and wants to cuddle and Daisy’s just not into it.’ I tell her to settle down and go back to sleep.  I’m mostly just glad that he wants to be near her because during the day Daisy wrestles with him pretty rough.  Another night or so goes by like this and I don’t think much about it. And now, remember Daisy’s about 10 months old and Poppy’s about 4 months, last night I was up a little later than usual and Daisy’s already asleep on her mat; all curled up.  I see Poppy go over by her and I stop to watch.  Poppy gets closer and closer, nestling himself between her legs.  Daisy loves her belly rubbed, easily more than anything, so when she feels something making for her belly she begins to unfurl. Without even opening her eyes, so she doesn’t know that it is Poppy.  So now her belly is fully exposed and I see Poppy rubbing his nose around her belly.  Then he finds one of her ka tiny nipples and starts suckling my dog! It goes so far that he begins to knead his paws into her belly and after a minute or two she begins to make those confused sounds I’ve been hearing in the night. She stands up and shakes him off.  Walks around a little, lays back down and the same thing happens again! Two or three times in a row! I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anything like this but it’s pretty weird.”

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

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