Posts Tagged With: job of a volunteer

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

091: mere Volunteers

“Hey Girly, what are you doing here?” Chelsi’s friend Mike asked, taking a seat at the dinning room table of the basement office.  Chelsi spun around in the computer chair, at a desk off to the side to face her friend.

“Didn’t you know?” Chelsi smiled. “I’m the APCVL for this week!”

“Laura’s gone again?”

“Yeah, for like a full three weeks. But I’m only here until Monday.” Chelsi swiveled back to face her open email page on the computer.

“Because we have the Animal Husbandry Workshop!” Mike added excitedly.

Chelsi laughed, “Yeah, it almost wasn’t going to happen.  Oliver didn’t get the grant money till like yesterday.  But I actually can’t go.”

“Oh no! Why?”

“Like, a week ago I opened my mouth to floss, and I got this super sharp pain in the left side of jaw. And it was like that for like four or five days, till I called the medical office nearly in tears to get an appointment with the dentist.  So they scheduled me one for Tuesday.” She paused, then continued, “It feels fine now, but I still want to have it looked at. And it just especially sucks cause I missed animal husbandry last year, because my counterpart just couldn’t get his act together enough to go.  But who knows, maybe next year, maybe third times the charm.”

“He just has his pants all in a twist,” Chelsi heard Mike say. “Admin is just very reactionary, and because everything is treated like an emergency, no one stops to think about what’s really going on.” Chelsi then heard the little bell that comes after sending a voice message on Whatsapp.

“What’s that about?” Chelsi ask with curiosity, spinning her chair back round.

Mike didn’t even take his eyes off his laptop. “You know that letter that got passed around about some of the volunteers feelings about new policy changes at the white house?”

“I might have seen it.”

“Well, apparently it got leaked to admin before the people involved got a chance to post it. And now Lusaka is acting like it’s the apocalypse. They’re saying things like, if it gets posted online, there will be a backlash against the PC Zambia post, people could lose their jobs, funding could disappear, duh di duh di duh.”

“What they really mean is that the country director could lose his job.”


“But really, among all the related letters out there, being written and posted, by all kinds of different organizations, associations, whatever, the chance of someone even pseudo-important picking up one for PC Zambia and passing it up to the administration for individualize persecution, is like what? One and…”

“Not likely at all,” Mike finished her comment. “But now they’re talking about administratively separating anyone who posts it.”

“I know that we’re not allowed to make statements regarding the politics of our host country.  We’re not allowed to write or sign domestic petitions identifying ourselves as Peace Corps volunteers. But this has nothing to do with Zambia politics and is nothing close to a petition.  Petitions ask for things, request a review of something, and are written in specific address to the person or office that is in charge of whatever the petition relates too.  That is an open letter, addressed to no one in particular, asking for nothing specific. Or non-specific for that matter.  It’s just a compilation of thoughts and opinions that happen to be mutually held by a group of people.” Heat began to pervade Chelsi voice. “I’ve found that people who wave around the ‘right of free speech’ don’t really understand what it’s intended to protect, but this is it; protection from governmental persecution when opinion are expressed publicly by persons about the government and/or its policies.” She pause to collect herself. “Maybe if we were federal employees, and the upper administration was worried that these conversations were taking place during the work day… Then, sure Lusaka would be in the right to take disciplinary actions; but they make it far too abundantly clear that we are not employees, just mere volunteers, not held to the same standard.”

“I agree,” Mike added, once she had stepped down from her soap box.

“And of course, something like this would blow up, right when I’m planning an extension.”

“WHAT?!” now Mike’s full attention was on her. “You got it?! And you didn’t tell me right away!?”

Chelsi smiled coyly, “Well, it’s pending medical and housing approval.” Mike stood up and approached her for a hug. “And you know, I didn’t really think to tell anyone; I figured the rumor mill would spread it around.”

They embraced, “Congratulations!”

“I know! Now we can be extension buddies together!”

Categories: Current Events, Drama | 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

084: … and On and On

​The fourth night of Camp GLOW, Girls Leading Our World, the fire wasn’t for warmth or light but celebration.  The girls, their mentors and volunteers sang, danced, played games.  Chelsi didn’t know all the words to most of the songs, but she enjoyed the dancing.  Whenever she was called to the center of the circle, which was often, she always gave it her all.  She tried out some of the new moves her girls tried to teach her over the course of the week and others she had observed on the dancer she was called out to replace.  Always she was trying to keep her steps in time with the chanting, until the girls’ cheers and laughter disrupted the rhythm and a new dancer was called out.  

When Lauren and Paige pulled out the marshmallows, and chocolate, and cookies, and cried “S’mores!” there was a tizzy of excitement.  The games stopped and all the girls dashed inside the cafeteria with their sticks.  

“I always wonder if we shouldn’t do S’mores in the morning at Camps,” Chelsi thought aloud, trying to be equitable with the marshmallows as hundreds of little hands grabbed for them.  

“You mean especially after what happened at Camp TREE,” Mike laughed. “I’ve never seen that though, kids so hyped up on sugar.”

“Yeah, more sugar than they’ve ever eaten in their lives.” Neal added.  

“Exactly, so we fill them full of sugar in the morning. They’ll crash at about lunch time, and we stuff them with nshima, so that by bed time they’re hardly even able to move,” Chelsi finished her thought aloud.  

When all the marshmallows were nearly finished, and the girls’ games had died down to a dull roar, Lauren and Paige started the work of shepherding them into their dorms.  

“I’m glad we did this today instead of on Tuesday, like we were supposed to,” Mike offered. “All the girls knew each other better so I think they had more fun.” Chelsi helped him pull apart the logs of the fire, then the two started across the campus to their sleeping quarters. 

“You should definitely consider adding an unstructured, outdoor fire and game night to ELITE.  I think the boys would really like it,” Chelsi added.  “I know the one we had a TREE was kind of crazy, but this was definitely a happy medium.”

“Well you know why it ended up the way it did at ELITE, was because of Sara.” Chelsi’s held the door of their dorm open for her friend.  “I love her to death and all, but her anxiety required a lot of structure.” The two walked down the hall to their sleeping space.  

“In that situation, at Solwezi Trade in all though, it was probably for the best.” Chelsi started organizing her bed for sleeping, then squeezed some toothpaste on her toothbrush.

“Yeah, the people that ran that place were crazy. And even the way we did it, the boys had a good time,” Mike said as he crawled under his mosquito net and into his bed. “This place reminds me of a prison,” he added anecdotally.

“Minus the cheese, tomato, mustard sandwiches,” Chelsi laughed. “Like we had a Camp TREE!”

“Yeah,” Mike chuckled, “Camps are basically like prisons.”

While rinsing out her mouth, Chelsi’s phone began to ring.  Still laughing to herself, she looked at the number.  It was late, and she was tired, but it was her mother.  Chelsi swiped the green phone, “Hello?”

“Hi dear, how are you? Is it too late there by you?” her mother’s voice came in distant over the phone.

“No, I’m still up. I’m just in Kasempa at our girls’ empowerment camp.”

“Oh, okay, do you want me to call you back another time?”

“No it’s fine, the girls are in bed, and I was just getting ready for bed myself.  I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m okay,” Chelsi heard her mother’s voice get stiff. “But I have some news, if you have heard…” and Chelsi could feel wet tears on her cheek, streaming through the phone. She sat down on the edge of her bed.

 “Who is it? Who died this time?”

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

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

080: Lake Tanganyika

​“It’s a, what did you say? Pilla Pillad-d-d,” 

“Pileated!” Chelsi laughed, over the jumbled sounds coming from the mouth of the blonde haired boy straddling the picnic table bench beside her.  “Pileated, pileated, is the word I meant,” her breathing slowed but the words still came out of her as if on a bubble.

“What the fuck is pileated?” the boys English-Zambian accent put a tone on the word in a way Chelsi had never heard before.  

“Pileated. It’s just in the States, we have a bird call the Pileated Woodpecker.”

“No, we don’t have that here,” he cut her off with a smile.

“I know, stop it!” She swung her leg over the bench to match his posture, then landed a solid bunch on his shoulder. 

“Ssss, Oww,” but even Chelsi was a little surprise at how hard it landed.  

“Oh, stop, you’ll be fine,”

He smiled up at her and winked.  

“What I’m trying to say is that I got confused, I know there’s no Pileated Kingfisher. I meant what you said, Pied Kingfisher, what Laura and I saw was your Pied Kingfisher.”

“It’s a beautiful bird, isn’t it?”

Staring up into the night sky, Chelsi reimagined what she had seen that morning.  A small bird had been perched on the railing of the deck build out over the edge of the lake.  Her and Laura had seen it fishing, swooping in from the front with a glittering silver fish wiggling, in its long, sturdy black beak.  Laura had looked away, uninterested in the tiny gem of an animal, but Chelsi watched on, while it a moment the bird threw back its head and in three gulps made the fish disappear.  When it spread its wings to fly away in to the trees at the water’s edge it displayed a dazzling plumage of white with black spots. 

“It’s absolutely magnificent.” Chelsi replied, reaching for a drink on the table, her copper rings clinking against the glass as she picked it up.  

“Here, let me top you up,” he offered, tipping the cubical bottle so amber colored liquid flowed into her glass. “And this too, if you wanna finish it.”

“Thank you,” they sat quietly for a minute, their hands and mouths occupied.  

“That’s one of the things I like about this job.  Getting to see the birds and the Lake every day, you know? The yellow-billed kite, the purple heron, that pied kingfisher, and the swallows; so many swallows.  I haven’t had the chance to look through the fish books yet.” He had turned his head towards the glowing screen of his computer, and was scrolling through hundreds of music files, trying to decide on just the right one to play next. 

“Well, you’d better get on it. You said what? Your year here’s up a month or two.” Chelsi kept her gaze down, distracting herself some ashes that had fallen on the bench between them.  

“Yeah,” the sound of glitter began to pour from the speaker, followed by the woeful voice of a woman. “Ahh, but it’s time to see new things. You know?” he fidgeted with the ball cap on his head.  

“You’re preaching to the choir with that one. I moved like, ten times in the five, six years before I came to Zambia.”

“Fack, then what? You come here, but you’re going to have some crazy stories by the time you go back, huh?” He turned to face her, Chelsi catch the flash of hunger in his eyes.  

“Ha, yeah, they’ll be crazy alright.  And the first one is going to be how you, the acting lodge boss,  greeted Laura and I on the dock when we go here the other day; ‘The crazies are here!’” Chelsi couldn’t keep from laughing and she could see him blush a bit in the glow of the computer screen.  

“In the year that I’ve been here you two are the only one who have ever taken the ferry here.  Everyone else drives, or takes a bush plane.”

“That also makes it clear that we are your first volunteers to visit.” Chelsi raised her glass, “I have no car and little money, so I will be taking the 70 kwacha ferry, camping under the beautiful, yet painful acacia trees and eating rice and soya for the hundredth time in two weeks,” and with that knocked back the remaining contents.  Replacing the glass on the table she slid closer to him on the bench. “Hear, I want to pick the next one.” He made short protest, but Chelsi slapped his hands away. “Just listen,” she said leaning in closer to better see the features of his face.  But even with the glowing screen and the closest moon in a century she found herself leaning closer and closer; looking to count every eyelash that ringed his water in rock eyes.   

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076: Popcorn Balls

Chelsi let out a breath.  With that breath went the stresses, anxieties and worries of the hectic month.  Finally, some semblance of normalcy.  She though gathering herself this Friday morning.  There was just one more program on the docket before she could really break for the next round of programs and activities.

In her oblong green basin she gathered a medium pot, carton of sugar, bag of popcorn bottle of vanilla,  wooden stirring rod, and candy thermometer.  Filling her small brazier with charcoal and grabbing her hat Chelsi made her way out into the morning.  It was early, but the morning was already feeling hot.  She positioned her green basin upon her head, thankful the little bit of extra shade.

For the last year, nearly every member of her village had pestered her to teach them to make breads, cakes, and biscuits.  To them, this knowledge promised the freedom of poverty, through the sale of these goods.  Chelsi, however, easily saw through the thin fog of this promise.  A few times she had tried to explain her reason against these activities.  ‘Just the capital to get started it immense.’ She would begin with a sigh. ‘First there is the purchase of flour, sugar, baking powders, plus, milk, butter and eggs, all of which are sold at a premium and the latter spoil quickly without proper refrigeration.  Then there’s the construction of an oven.’ Here she would reflect on her own half built oven.  The work in constructing the fuel effect oven proved to be much for her time and energy. But seeing it every day, sitting unfinished in her chinzanza was an ever present reminder the only program her village had ever been excited about.  ‘And even if you get the oven properly constructed, seeing how it is heated with wood or charcoal the temperature will take a while to learn to control, and even so, too hot or too cold the outcome for the baked good would be disastrous.  All those precious ingredients would be waste.’  Chelsi could envision all the rolls, cookies, and cakes she had burned, even using her electric, temperature controlled oven.  ‘But even with all this uncertainty, let’s say your final product finish the way you expected; what will you do with it then? The only market for these expensive goods would be in town, which is an hour and half long bicycle ride into town, in the sun or the rain. Then if you’re successful getting it there, you have to find someone to buy your cake with in a day or it’ll go off. And given the price of ingredients, labor, and transport, you’re finished product is going to be exponentially more costly than the cake rolls, buns, biscuits and breads already flooding the market in town.  Trust me,’ she would finish, ‘this venture would not be profitable.’  But still, the members of her village would be ever asking her ‘when the program for cake making will begin.’

Only one family had heeded her advice; they were ready adopter of all her suggestions.  And after hearing her reasoning asked, “So what’s the alternative?” The initial idea for popcorn balls came to her more than a year, and she explained her idea to the Masize family this way; ‘People are already familiar with popcorn. Women on the roads of the outskirts of town sell it, prepopped, 5 kwacha for a small bag. Covering it in sugar adds additional value.  The only ingredients required are popcorn, sugar, water, flavoring, all of which are cheap and easily available. None of the ingredients require refrigeration and once finished and properly stored, the popcorn balls are easy to transport and will keep without spoiling for some time. And oh, yeah, and there’s no need to build a blasted oven.’  This initial conversation had taken place some months ago.  Every week Chelsi had promised to come and teach them, but having been so bogged down with planning Camp she couldn’t find the time.

“But today’s the day!” she espoused to Daisy, who trotted to the path to the Masize’s house, in front of her.

“Mwaiyi,” Ba Gladys Masize greeted her from the edge of her compound.  She was wearing a simple black dress and her white apron.

“Mwane,” Chelsi responded, picking her way across the old maize field.

“Mwabuuka mwane,” old Bamaama Egness, a neighbor and auntie of some kind to Gladys’ husband, greeted her with respect to the morning.

They greeted each other with a quick handshake, and without delay Chelsi asked, “Twakeba kutatula? Najina masugar, ne mathermometer.”

“Eee,” Ba Gladys sounded with some excitement, taking Chelsi’s brazier from her and adding fire to it.

As the fire heated, Chelsi’s two students gathered round on little stools next to a small coffee table under a mango tree.  Chelsi removed the supplies from her basin. The women washed their hands; having waited a long time for this day the women were still too excited to engage in any small talk. So Chelsi started in on the lesson.

“Kutatula, twateeka mapopcorns.” She scooped out about a half a cup into the pot on the fire and covered it with the lid.  She knew the women were well versed in the popping of popcorn, it was the cooking of the sugar left them mystified.  She had tried to explain the details of candy making before; how all lollipops and candies were just sugar, cooked to varying temperatures with added flavor.  The response to this revelation was always, ‘Serious?’  That is to say you’re pulling my leg, or ‘I’ll believe it when I see it.’  Chelsi could easily excuse this skepticism; Chelsi herself, had been surprised at her success with candy making them first time she tried nearly ten years ago.

While the popcorn finished popping she filled her pot with the sugar water mixture and did her best to explain the thermometer and how they would use it.  “You see, we want to sugar to cook until the inner red line reaches here,” she indicated a small black mark inside the glass tube. “We need it to be about 300F but because this thermometer is old and the gauge has slipped we can’t be looking at the numbers.  After we practice a couple times we’ll also start to learn how the sugar looks when it reaches the right temperature.”

Popcorn finished, she eased the sugar water onto the fire.  “And we have to be careful, when taking the temperature, that we don’t let the thermometer touch the bottom of the pot.  Otherwise all we’re doing is taking the temperature of the fire.”  And so, all that was left was to wait and watch.

While they waited the women chattered about what an easy and brilliant idea the popcorn balls were.  How well they would sell in town, at the price they should be sold at.  They talked about ways to change the flavors of balls, and how they should be colored accordingly; and how children and adults alike a attracted to colorful sweeties. Chelsi stoked their enthusiasm by describing where she saw their business going in a couple of year.  “Because you know, if I can come to visit in a few years, travelling around Zambia, I’ll see your popcorn balls, peanut brittles and candied fruits sold everywhere.  And when I come to Solwezi, I’ll see everyone wearing t-shirts baring your face saying ‘Ba Gladys’s Candies’’ Chelsi archer hand across her chest, “’Solwezi Zambia!’” Arching her hand around her belly.  The women laughed, and so Chelsi continued.  “Then upon returning to American, I’ll look around and still everyone will be wearing your t-shirts!”  The women nearly fell off their stools with laughter.

Once they’d calmed, Chelsi reminded them to take the temperature of the sugar.  It was foaming up in the pot now, a soft caramel color.  The red temperature line shot up to just under their desired temperature.

“Alright! Perfect, so this is the time, if we’re going to, to add flavorings.” She tipped the bottle of vanilla gently over the pot.  “And a little salt, and vinegar.”  The sugar concoction simmered with anger, Chelsi removed the pot from the fire. “This is the part where we have to be really careful.  This sugar is hot enough that it can burn you very seriously, but we do have to touch it, and be quick about it.  Otherwise it’ll cook and harden in the pot.”  Without wasting anymore time she started pouring the sugar over the popcorn, stirring all the while.  The two women watched eagerly.  When Chelsi was satisfied, she directed Gladys to rub some cooking oil on her hands, “to help keep the sugar from sticking to you and burning your hands,” she explained.  Chelsi followed suit.  “Now we carefully, but quickly shape the popcorn into balls.”  She started picking some of the cooler bits off the top, and pressing it in her palms.  Gladys scooped some into her hands, but less carefully and winced a bit in pain.  But she powered through, and made her next ball from the cooler kernels on top.

When ten balls sat cooling on the top of the little coffee table, Bamaama Egness exclaim “Kyawama!” Very good indeed! Chelsi thought.  The cooling sugar glistened in the sunlight.  The shininess of confectionaries had always attracted Chelsi.

“And there you go! Now once they’re cool enough, you can wrap them in oiled paper or plastic, before packing them away. This way, if they’re sitting in the sun, they won’t start sticking together.”

“Twasanta,” Ba Gladys said to Chelsi with a gracious smile.

“No problem, my only regret is that it took so long for us to sit down and find time for it.”

As Chelsi started to clean up her things to go, her friend continued chattering about all the possibilities.  Chelsi couldn’t help beaming with pleasure. It’s always the small successes.

Categories: Fantasy, Food & Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

075: Crowning Achievement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



“Hey Chelsi?” Adam approached her from behind.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Camp TREE gang

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

071: Chisemwa cha Festival

Well, I came for a festival, Chelsi thought, sitting in the easy chair inside Erez’s house.  Though she was something of a festival novice she felt that most of the main festival point where being touched on.  They night before there had been a pig roast, a bonfire and general merr-making.  That morning they had gone swimming in a river, and now were doing their best to hide from the heat. Although Chelsi though, looking around, we also kind of look like a bunch of strung out junkies in a shooting gallery.  Through the door to the front yard Chelsi could see volunteers strewn about, some lying what little shade there was, other playing cards.  All were tanned by sun and dirt and moved their heads lethargically to carry on conversations about the insufferable heat and state of the day.

Chelsi picked up her gourd of strong mankoyo and tipped it into her mouth.  All that was left was chewy grain mash at the bottom; the now absent liquid having been converted into her satisfying buzz.  Given the current state of things now though, it was all the same to her.  Not to mention, glancing at her watch, it’s about lunch time.  Remaining in her seat certainly beat having to get up and scrounge for something else.  The sweet smell of sticky sweat rose from her, without any exertion, and mixed with the smoke of cigarettes wafting through an open side window.  Yeah, morning like a drug house, she decided taking in the rest of the surrounding inside the house.  Bottles of Desert Island cane spirits, at various levels of fullness, were scattered across the floor.  Tattered backpacks and clothing were heaped in piles along the long the walls.  And at the back of the long room an old, thin mattress pad was spread on the floor.  A top it were two, half naked men, both with dark, unkempt curls atop their heads and beards.  One, the festival host Erez, was lying back, propped up against the wall.  The second, his friend Ian, a Mambwe volunteer from Northern Provence was leaned over Erez’s upper half repeatedly sticking him with a sewing needle, soaked in india ink, tied to a pencil.

It’s the whole festival experience, Chelsi, still wondering to herself how it might have been different if the Senior Chief hadn’t cancelled the actual Chisemwa cha Lunda festival, the day after it was supposed to have started, in order to attend the inauguration of the re-elected, but hotly contested president of Zambia.  ‘I heard that’s the reason he decided to attend,’ Erez had tried to explain to them after they arrived. ‘A bunch of other chiefs who want a recount are also going to express their displeasure with the way the election was decided.’


With patients though, the heat of the day began to pass away.  Wisps of dark clouds even began to gather in the sky.  “Do you think rain?” Chelsi ask over her shoulder at friend Oliver.

“I think the 25th, that’s when it’ll start raining,” he declared with confidence.  “Peter thinks the 18th.”

“Well, if a keeps looking this way, he might be right,” a cool breeze rustled the flies of their tent city.

In the front yard, beyond the fence, the crowd grew larger and larger.  They were the village residents, lured from the shade of their own trees by the cooling air, and greatest show on earth.  Children young and old alike, grasped the bamboo reeds of Erez’s fence and press their faces through the wholes.  The adults stood back, using their height to peer over the barrier.

“Erez said that his village has something planned for tonight,” Oliver added, blowing out his cheeks to the gleeful squeals of the children at the fence.

But Chelsi had begun to walk away.  The unblinking eyes stirred up her anxiety and she went in search of quieter place to hide.  She followed the path out the back of the fence, and made for a small thicket behind Erez’s pit toilet.  As she approached to nose told her that she’d be alone, but never alone.

“Hey Chelsi,” Tyler greeted her in his usual way, blowing a lung full of smoke over his shoulder. Rider, standing just nearby, nodded his head in her direction.

“Hey guys.” She let the weight of her body fall again a tree.

“How is it up there?” he asked, stretching an offering out with his hand.

She gracefully accepted it, “crowded.”

Rider, standing in the corner of his own world, laughed then coughed.

“I know what you mean, and that fence; so much worse.  There’s nothing that makes you feel more like a caged animal than a fence,” the passion for the subject was clear in his voice.

“It’s almost like, because there’s a fence they’re far more bold about pushing their faces up against it.”  Way back when, when Chelsi was asked in her initial Peace Corps interview, how she would cope with being watched, a fence hadn’t occurred to her.  After arriving in country and seeing other volunteers with them, and she started to feel eyes on her every move, she began to consider one; but was ultimately glad that she had decided against it.  “I don’t blame them though.”

“Yeah,” Tyler finished her thought, “this is easily the most exciting thing that has ever happened here.  Some 20 white people, and Samira showing up and partying and being just generally ridiculous.”

The three of them carried on, about the yurts and tree houses and furnished, electrified apartments they imagined other volunteers across the world living in, about mute goats, the bat on a string, development, migration, priorities in the village.  All the while, the sun making its way swiftly towards the horizon.  And when the sky was dark and the light shone red, Chelsi started to hear the sound of drumming.

“Oliver said the village was planning something.  That must be it, huh?”

“Yeah, they’ve probably got a fire, going and they’re dancing.”

“Should we go?”

Rider shuttered, “people. Noise.”

“Alright, well, I think I’m going to go.” Though she was put off by both those things as well, she felt a little obligated. “I’m here for a festival after all,” not that she needed to justify her decision to the other two.  But a small twinge of disappointment did resurface in her, thinking about again how the official festival was cancelled, “and I do feel like I’ve been getting the full festival experience!” she added with a grand smile.  The two boys laughed.

“It’s been quite the weekend.”

She turned to go back to the house, there’s only one festival activity left, she thought to herself on the way, and that’s to dance! Dance like nobody’s watching!

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

070: Surprise Celebration

That’s strange, Chelsi thought to herself walking on to the compound of the prov house.  A pile of bags and furniture was stacked up by the door.  Perhaps one of the new kids didn’t make it to their site, it was a reasonable enough assumption.  Chelsi kicked off her shoes and went inside.  The tile was cool under her feet.  She threw bag down beside the long common table and continued out on to the back porch.

“Hey Chelsi,” Chelsi looked about startled by the voice.

“Oh hey Tom, how are you? When did you get here?” Thomas was a fellow volunteer of her intake, but Chelsi rarely saw him, seeing as he lived in the farthest reaches of the province and didn’t often make his way toward town.

“I’m fine, fine. We got here a few days ago. Because did you hear about what happened at Janelle’s site?”

Chelsi shrugged.  She was usually last to get news.  “The Mwini crew doesn’t usually keep us Kaondes informed.”

“Well, one the kids that Janelle worked with went crazy.”

“Yeah, he went crazy,” came Janelle’s mousy voice from the kitchen off the porch.  “Thomas? Do you want mustard on your sandwich?”

“What?” Tom cocked his head toward the kitchen, “oh yeah, yeah, that’s fine.  Yeah, apparently he got in this motorbike accident and hit his head pretty hard, probably gave himself a concussion.  And after that was acting kind of strange, and Janelle was telling him, you know ‘just follow advice of the clinic worker,’ and he was telling her that the other people in the village were telling him that he needed to go see the witch doctor.  And she was telling him not to go, but of course he went anyway.”

“Naturally,” Chelsi nodded a long with the story.

“Right?” Tom shook his head in agreement of the feeling.  “And when he came back he went to Janelle’s house and started telling her that she was a savior, a reincarnation of Christ, and that she needed to sacrifice herself to save him…”

“Oh dear,” Chelsi let herself fall in to the adjacent couch, just as Janelle was emerging from the kitchen, balancing two plates in her hand.

“Yeah, he was coming to my house, saying things like ‘Oh I am suffering, but you, you were sent here to save me.  You need to sacrifice yourself to save me.’”

“Yeah, and he was making threats against her life, like if she didn’t kill herself, he would have to kill her…”

“So I called Safety & Security, and they were like, ‘a yeah, you can’t stay there.’ So I pulled from my site.”

“Oh, so that’s all your stuff on the porch?” it was all coming together for Chelsi.”

“Yeah, and yeah, so now I’m here…” Janelle let out a nervous chuckle and took a bit of her sandwich.

“It’s really sad too,” Tom continued. “This kid was like, super smart.  He was one of the boy Janelle brought to Camp ELITE.  He was doing really well in school, spoke great English…” Tom took a bit of his sandwich.

“Well, what do you think happened? Do you think it was just a traumatic brain injury?”

“Yeah that could be part of it.” Tom said, chewing. “We think though too, it might have been something the witch doctor gave him.  You know some kind of drug that messed with his brain.”

“Sure, especially if it was already in a fragile state from the accident.” Chelsi leaned her head back and closed her eyes, typical. “So what now? What are the options?”

“I’m trying to move in with Thomas!” Janelle piped up with a smile.

It makes sense.  They’ve been together for more than a year and a half now, they’re in the same language group.  “What does Admin think about that?”

“Cleopher doesn’t mind, but it’s really just up to the Country Director,” Tom clarified.

“So Leon?”


“Have you been able to talk to him at all? What does he say?”

“That if we want to live together, we have to get married.” This was said very matter-a-fact-ly.

“Because the alternative is that they give Janelle interrupted service and send her home, it’s too late in the game to be moving her to a new site,” Chelsi added mimicking the somber tone.  They couple in question shook their heads, mouths full of sandwich.  “So, does this mean we’re planning wedding?”

“We’re going to go the city council office this afternoon and find out.”


Though the circumstances were unfortunate, Chelsi was rather excited by the idea of a wedding.  It’s a good reason to make a cake, and splurge for a bottle a sparkling wine… She was so excited by the thought it was difficult for her to concentrate on her work that afternoon.  So went Thomas and Janelle returned from town she was jumped on them for the verdict.

“Well, well, well,” Chelsi pushed them excitedly.

“Well,” Tom started, sounding optimistic, “one of the things we were concerned about was the cost.  We were able to get a hold of Hannah and Rob,” the only two other volunteers to get married during their service, so as to be able to co-habitat they knew of, “and they said they ended up having to spend like 800 dollars, not kwacha, dollars and their marriage. And if it was going to be that much, we just weren’t going to be able to afford it.  But apparently getting married in Solwezi is super cheap; a speedy wedding’s only 150 kwacha.”

“A ‘speedy’ wedding,” Chelsi asked.  “As opposed to a ‘not speedy’ wedding?”

“A speedy wedding,” Janelle chirped.  “it 50 kwacha more, otherwise it takes three weeks to have your wedding!”

“Are you sure it’s not just, you know, a bribe?” Even after Tom and Janelle explained the difference between a ‘speedy wedding’ and a conventional wedding, calling it a bribe, to Chelsi, still sounded more reasonable.

“If you don’t pay the extra 50 kwacha,” Tom explained, “ then the city council would take Janelle’s picture and biographical information and post it to this bulletin board of engagements at the office, where other men would have three weeks to bid on her and try to break up our engagement.”

Yeah, that’s a bribe.

“Meanwhile, I” Thomas continued, “have to get a letter signed by my father saying that I’ve never been married before.”

“Well, there’s no more honest work than spending an afternoon forging official documents,” Chelsi jested.

“But really…” and the group laughed at just the one more absurdity of living in Zambia.

“So when’s the ceremony scheduled to take place?” Chelsi needed to know how long she had to plan the reception.

“Tomorrow.  It’s too late to go back there this afternoon, but the guy at the city council office today said the guy who does the ceremonies will be in tomorrow. And I guess we need to call are families if we can,” Tom added turning to his fiancé.

“Yeah, you need to call my father and ask his permission!”

“So what kind of cake do you want?”


That evening passed quickly in a bustle of commotion.  Tom and Janelle spent the evening getting hold of every relative they could.  Chelsi, Rider and Molly, the only other occupants of the house that week, were set putting all the requisite wedding materials together.  Chelsi crafted the top tier of the cake, a spongy strawberry, Rider the bottom, a dense pound cake, and Molly artfully crafted rings from copper wire.

The next morning, there a small to do about what they groom should wear.  ‘Is it better to wear kind of dirty kakis or clean jeans?’ After the jeans were decided upon, a cab was called and the wedding precession began.

“Probably not exactly how you envisioned your wedding day, huh?” Molly commented while the five of them, struggled to shift around in the sedan, without ripping their finest cloths.

“I think Janelle and I will have another ceremony for our families when we get back to the States.”

“Will you still be considered married in the State?” Rider asked.  This really was the question no one seemed to know the answer to.

“We know that Norway doesn’t recognize Hannah and Rob’s marriage,” Tom said, “but we don’t know anyone who go Zam-married then moved back to America.  So we really have no idea.”

They small reception continued to discuss this point at the city council office until the master of ceremonies arrive.  It turned in to a long conversation too, because he never arrived.  After hours of waiting the party stormed the office and demand that someone be found to marry their friends.  Within five minutes a man was found, handed a binder and the proceedings began.

On their marriage certificate, Thomas and Janelle’s occupation was listed as volunteers.  The city council office readily accepted Thomas’s letter of consent to marriage from his not father, and Chelsi and Rider, the maid of honor and best man, respectively, signed as witnesses to the ceremony.  The man from the city council office fessed up right away that he had never done a wedding before, and though he had a script to guide him, still more than once look around at the witnesses asking what came next.  Copper rings were exchange, with a comment on how it was the love in their hearts, not the material of the metal in the rings that mattered.  And Thomas Strong and Janelle Horstman vowed to have and to hold each other; at least till they returned to America.

“You know, for a proper wedding, with our families in a church.”

Categories: Current Events, DIY, Romance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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