Posts Tagged With: Kamijiji

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

099: Nearest Neighbor

Chelsi lugged her bike through the doorway and off the step of the porch; the rusted chain grinded against the crank.  Outside, Chelsi gently hoisted the bike’s pink frame onto her dish rack.  The rotting rack shook under the weight, but Chelsi figured, just this one last time.  The chain and gears needed oil, this Chelsi knew, but she had already packed at the bottom of her bag, in anticipation of the move she was to make in a matter of weeks.  Using a rag though, she wiped away dirt from crank and cassette, wrapped the rag around the chain and turned the crank.  The chain slipped though the rag leaving streaks of brown and black.

If only, Chelsi thought. If only I had a nearest neighbor my whole service.  I would have been out here cleaning the bike every other day.  Through her mind pasted the fantasies she had created and collected over the years about what it would have been like; to be able to hop on the bike and in 15 minutes be with another volunteer.  I could have had a partner for Camp TREE, an ally in getting my house fixed, a friend to care for Daisy.  I could have helped them plant trees around their house, build an oven, formulate feed for their ducks.  She shook the images out of her head.  There’s no sense in thinking about how things could have been, when to today we could know how they actually are.

Chelsi lifted the bike back onto the ground after checking the pressure in the tires.  “Daisy! Baby Girl, get up, get up, get up.”  There was a faint thud, thud before the dog appeared in the door way.  She stretched, front feet first, then back. She topped it off with a yawn.  “We’re going to go for a ride today,” Chelsi said walking towards her at the door.

In the house Chelsi grabbed her white plastic helmet, and blue chitenge bag, complete with water bottle and emergency snack.  The process of preparing for a visit to her nearest neighbor felt natural, even though it was her first time.  And the last time, the dark thought floated through the back of her mind.  Lilly, her near neighbor was only here for two days; not even a volunteers yet. A mere trainee.  At the end of the weekend she would go back to Lusaka to finish training.  She wouldn’t return until after Chelsi moved out; site visit they call it.  Chelsi only vaguely remembered her site visit; the three days she spent sitting in the dilapidated shack, Mike a called a shed with a bed.  She shuttered strapping her helmet to her head, and starting towards the road.

Daisy bounded up the path and on to the gravel.  She looked left, then right, then back at Chelsi.  Chelsi pointed to the right and Daisy trotted away.  Mounting the bike, Chelsi set off after her.

Biking down the road Chelsi wasn’t concerned that meeting would be awkward.  She didn’t think about what she would say, or should say.  She didn’t worry that Lilly would rebuff her unarranged arrival.  As a friend of the neighboring village Chelsi was even certain that lunch would be served upon her arrival by Lilly’s host family.  It’ll probably be the last time I eat nshima here.

Chelsi knew, that even though her and Lilly had never met, they were already friends; they were compatriots, Peace Corps volunteers.  Chelsi would do whatever necessary to help out her neighbors and fellows; to brighten their day or support them when the going got rough.  And she was sure, shortly, if not already, Lilly would feel the same pull.

Daisy’s long legs loped around the last curve to the left.  She knew the way.  Lilly’s host family was a good friend of Chelsi’s and she had made many visits to the house in the past.  On the bike, Chelsi swerved around the well to the path that went round a fallen tree to the main compound.  The children had screeched with excitement when they saw Daisy run up, so that the adults knew Chelsi was close behind and had a few moments to prepare themselves accordingly.

“Aaah, Ba Chelsi. Welcome,” Kenny said reaching to take her bike away before she had even dismounted.

“Thank you, thank you,” Chelsi looked past all of the excitement to the volunteer compound that was set off to the back.  “I’ve come to see Lilly.  She made it okay?” Chelsi asked as Kenny walk back to his seat in the shade, after having leaned her bike against the wall of the house.

“Yes, yes, yes. She is there!”

Chelsi peaked around some trees, and sure enough she saw a woman in a chair in the small chinzanza at the front of the volunteer house.  Chelsi could see that the commotion of here arrival to the compound had caught her attention.  Chelsi waved. Lilly waved back. “Naiya,” Chelsi called and started in her direction.

Categories: Adventure, Drama, Health & Fitness | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

093: ka Mbuzhi

The morning light was barely enough to pass through Chelsi’s bedroom window; but it was enough to tell her that morning was near.  She rolled over, away from it and pulled her darling Daisy closer. It was another cold rainy morning, with nowhere to rush off. Daisy let out a sigh in agreement.

Baaaa… BAAAAH,” screamed a goat.  Chelsi’s host family didn’t corral or shelter their goats in anyway, so they had taken up residence in her chinzanza. But because that too was collapsing now it wasn’t uncommon for Chelsi or Daisy to be woken in the middle of the night to goats screaming; they are cold and wet, or grass and support beams had fallen on them.  It hurt Chelsi’s heart to hear, but they couldn’t become her responsibility and there was really nothing she could do.

The screaming had woken Tulip too though, and now he was pawing at the mosquito net, trying to find a way on to the bed.  Chelsi reached behind her, grabbing the grown kitten by the scruff of his neck and hoisting him on to the bed.  “BAAAAAH! BAAAH!” screamed a goat again. Chelsi listened, and she could hear that this was a different goat, one bedded down behind her house, not in front.  She didn’t think much of it though. It didn’t sound like the usually situation of a goat bedding down in her toilet, but it was close enough.  Maybe it’s just left looking for the others, or the others kicked it out of the chinzanza and now it doesn’t know where to go, Chelsi reasoned to herself.  Either way, the screaming was followed by peaceful silence.

A dream was starting to form in Chelsi’s mind eye, when “bmeeee, meeeh,” the weak whimper for a goat caught her attention.  A new baby had just been born a few days ago. Maybe it was her mother that got kicked out of the chinzanza and now they’re separated.  Half a sleep, her thoughts tried to puzzle it out.  She didn’t want to open her eyes to check the time, but she figured, just another half an hour and I’ll get up to check it out.

All three of them in the bed rested until the light naturally lifted their lids.  There had been a few more goat noises in the interim, but nothing more that Chelsi thought as cause for alarm.  She pushed off the blankets, and pealed herself out of the bed.  Daisy grunted, Tulip yawned.  She dressed herself and started her morning the same way she did every day.  She even pushed open the back window to let a fresh breeze blow through the house.

“Meh he he,” came a goat’s limp whimper. This time Chelsi could tell, that without a doubt it was coming from just under her back window.  She spit and rinsed, finished brushing her teeth, she stuck her head out the window to have a look.

“Well, what do you know?”

The black and white nanny looked right up at her.  Blood was splattered on the grass, just beyond where the overhang of the roof ended.  Clear mucus was smeared on her wall. And poking its head out from between its mother’s legs was a brand new ka mbuzhi.

Chelsi reach out to rub the nanny’s neck, the baby goat took a few wobbly steps to sniff Chelsi’s fingers. It was back and white, like a miniature version of its mother.  Chelsi leaned farther out the window to rub its back.  Its fur had already been cleaned and was as soft as ever.  When Chelsi stroked it, it wobbled and let out a little sigh.

Not wanting to disturb them too much, Chelsi retracted herself back through the window. She gave them one more smile, and finished up with her morning.


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

090: Every Morning

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, you hear the 6:45 alarm go off. You stretch a little, roll over in bed.  Daisy in the next room on the couch; you know she mirroring your actions.  Her nails click against the cement floor as she jumps off the couch and walks over to the side of the bed.  She lets out a little sigh as she stretches and paws at the mosquito net. ‘It’s cuddle time,’ she’s saying, ‘Let me up on the bed.’

You reach your arm around and pull some of the net out of the bed frame; just enough so that Daisy has room to jump up.  She steps over you, curling up so her back it up against your belly.  You both drift back to sleep.

Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep, the 7:30 alarm, now it’s time to get up.  Daisy stretch out first, scooching herself up so her head is resting on the pillow beside yours.  She rolls and sighs.  Morning dog breath is your limit.  “I’m getting up,” you tell her, pushing off the blanket and swinging your legs over the side of the bed.  You’re startled when your toes touch something furry.

“Meow, meo.” The fog clears from in front of your eyes and you see Tulip, sitting, looking up at you.

“If you’re not careful I’m going to step on you one of these days,” you warn, grabbing the empty mug wedged between the mattress and the wall in one hand and your phone in the other.  You walk out of the small bedroom, through the narrow doorway into the common room.  You empty your hands onto the table and make your way to the back room, pulling aside the curtains on the windows as you go.  The back room is still dark, but you know where everything is.

You open the nozzle on the water bag hanging from the ceiling poles and let fresh water run in to a small black basin.  Using your hands, you splash the cool water on your face, then apply some face wash, and rinse in the same manner.  A towel hangs on the curtain rod and you use it to dry your hands and face.  You grab your tooth brush from as cup sitting on a chest high shelf, used to hold your toiletries and tools.  While you brush, you fill a cup with clean water from the filter in the common room.  After rinsing you slip in to the cloths you left hanging on the curtain rod the day before.

You make your way back into the common room.  Tulip is sitting on his food bin grooming his paws.  He’s hungry, but he can wait till Daisy gets up too, you think to yourself.  At the kitchen bench you start the process of making coffee.  The coffee is in the green plastic basket, on the shelf below the countertop of the kitchen bench.  You grab it, unscrew the top of the espresso maker, fill the lower chamber with water from the filter, pour grounds into the grate and screw the top back on.  You pump air into a bright red fuel container and attach it to your MSR Dragonfly backpack stove.  Carefully you open the fuel line valve, and the faint smell of gasoline wafts up.  When the smell seem strong enough, you close the fuel line, light a match and move it ever closer to the stove until the gas catches with a POP.

While the stove heats up, you take a green plastic bowl from off the shelf over the bedroom doorway.  To it you add oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon, peanut butter and water, kept hot in your thermos brand thermos from the night before.  Quickly you stir it up and set it to the side, refocusing your attention on the stove.  Reopening the fuel line allows the gas to catch, burning with an even blue flame.  Atop the burner you set an old lid to a giant can of dog food, then balance the espresso maker atop it.

Daisy rustles the blankets in the bedroom. Is she going to get up? You ask yourself.

When it’s not followed by the click of her nails hitting the cement floor you think, not yet.

Over at the table you touch the screen of your phone, bringing it back to life.  You re-enable the network and leave it to sit and catch up with morning.  Meanwhile, you bring your stainless steel mug back to the kitchen bench.  To it you add some powdered milk and hot water. You turn the flame up on the stove.

A plastic bag is heard crackling behind you.  When you turn, you see Tulip pouncing on the bag you keep all your extra bags in.  The sound is enough to make Daisy think you are reaching into her food bag.  She Click Clicks on to the floor, stretches and comes in the common room, her tail wagging, ready to greet you for the day.

Now that Daisy’s risen, Tulip gets extra excite, bouncing between the bloated bag of bags, Daisy and his food bin.

“Alright, alright,” you tell them, as Daisy paws at your legs.  “I’m coming, hold on.”

You fill Daisy’s stainless steel dog bowl with heart shape, chicken flavored kibbles from a giant, red plastic bin.  When you replace the bowl on the floor, Tulip attempts to get to it first, but is distracted by the sound of the doves flying on to the roof, cooing to one another.  Your take his little blue plastic food bowl off the cat shelf and fill it with star shaped, liver flavored kibbles from a clear plastic bin.  Tulip climbs the branch to his cat shelf, antsy with anticipation.  As the animals eat you prop open the front door, allowing in more light.

The house fills with the scent of coffee.  Returning to the kitchen bench you turn up the flame on the stove then shut the fuel valve.  The flame sputters out.  Carefully you pour the coffee into the milk.  When it’s finished you take up the black handle of the coffee mug in one hand, and your green plastic bowl filled with tender oats in the other.  At the table you set them down near a dinning chair, covered with a red cushion. You take your seat and look out the window, to see the sun coming up over the tree tops.

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

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

066: Funeral Pyre

Chelsi looked down at the garden bed in front of her feet.  Just yesterday it had been covered in promising little radishes; now all it was filled with was dashed hopes and dreams.  The bed coverings were strewn about, dirt was piled up at the bed edges and claw marks were clear on soft beds center. “Gorged out the by a gardens worst enemy.”

“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the black bared rooster crowed from Chelsi’s front porch.

“If you could get my hands on you…!” she exclaimed in an empty threat.  But still, the fantasy of the bird, breast up on a roasting pan always calmed her down. Dues owed she thought.

It was the feeling of be burgled. To come home after a long day’s work and find that all your prized possessions had been stolen and the window smashed; you’re angry for a moment and then overwhelmingly sad.  Only Chelsi knew who to be angry with, her host family, the Kalulu’s. It was their chickens and goats that were always destroying her garden. “And then! When and if things do grow they’ll have the audacity to come over and tell me to give them some,” steam poured out her ears. ‘No’ she practiced over and over in her head, ‘you’re chickens already ate your portion. Go eat them!

The whole purpose was it improve child and family nutrition. The whole purpose of my garden is to improve my nutrition. Some of the mothers in Kamijiji had asked for nutrition traing, they know their first graders look like toddlers and the toddlers look like infants. Others in the village just didn’t know or seemed to care. Chelsi hating seeing some of her favorite children eating nothing but packaged cookies and nshima, the local staple of maize mush.

Ahh, but the chickens aren’t for eating’ she was told.

Then why don’t you come to the gardening workshop. We can have some small gardens, they’ll be easy to take care of all year round, improve nutrition that way.

Ah, but there are no vegetable seeds.

If you dig a garden I will give you seeds to start.

Ah, but the chickens, they will just dig up the garden.

Build a fence.

Ah, but it’s a lot of work.

So lock up the chickens in a chicken house and tie up the goats.


‘Fine then let your children starve.

But look, they are fat!’

They’re not fat! They are swollen with fluid because their kidneys are shutting down.

Chelsi sighed. Her fence did help. The number of chickens rolling through was greatly reduced, but only one was needed to undue weeks of watering and care. Fuck it, when I go to town next I’m getting fifty meters of chicken wire. She no longer cared that it would cost her an entire pay check. She then had a thought about how well scare crow actually worked.  She took a few deep breaths, started to feel better.  “Because do you really want to be that one?” She asked herself. “The volunteer who totally loses it and acts out rashly?” She had been voted most likely to, for swear-in superlatives last year.  “Most likely to: burn a goat in a funeral pyre.” She had been downgraded, from ‘Most likely to:’ make their house sustainable, after a conversation with PC Zambia’s then CFO, from which the designation was born.

The CFO Jason, Chelsi and three other soon to be volunteers sat in a small office, more than a year ago now, discussing proper volunteer conduct. ‘Don’t take drugs, don’t steal, take only certified taxi’s unless you have no other options. Try not to travel alone, don’t burn down your house, don’t burn down anyone else’s house. Just try not to do anything that would ostracize you from your communities, like killing your neighbor’s goat and burning it in a funeral pyre.

The comment had been presented to off handedly; don’t kill your neighbor’s goat and burn it in a funeral pyre. Chelsi had to ask.

We had a volunteer, who had a garden,’ Jason had stated calmly, ‘not unlike a lot of volunteers. But there was this goat, this one goat, which I guess was always breaking down the volunteers fence and destroying their garden.  So apparently what had happened, is they came home one day, to find their garden again, completely destroyed and the goat just standing there. And the volunteer lost it, killed the goat and built a giant pyre and burn the body.

Chelsi now knew what that murderous passion must have felt like for that volunteer, but Jason had never described how that volunteer had committed that act.  In Chelsi’s imagination it was a knife, they just stabbed it over and over, until it was dead.

So we had to send that volunteer home, because there was no way to reconcile with the community.

And the proper way to handle the situation, would have been….?

You make arrangements with the owner of the offending goat, to purchase the animal. Then, you may kill the animal if you wish, and if there is too much meat for you alone, you share it with the community. You don’t burn it front of them.

That’s how the story played in Chelsi’s head every morning, when she went out to water her garden, to mentally prepare herself.  She would take Jason’s advice if she thought it would make a difference.  But if she bought all of her family’s chickens, they would just go out and buy more chickens.  And all chickens are offenders. So instead she figured she would keep buying identical copies of her family’s chickens the market, and roasting them, while secretly hoping all the chicken at home would catch New Castle Disease and die.

Categories: Drama, Food & Recipes, Gardening, Health & Fitness, Horror, Law, Justice and Order | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

065: We’re not friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you?”

“I’m sick, how are you?”

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

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

“Is that so?” 

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

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

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

“You’ve been sick, seriously?”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” there was no smile, no banter.

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

“I have a farm on this side.”

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

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

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

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

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

063: Grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

046: Malaria Madness

“Thank you so much for being flexible with the plans Marmar,” Chelsi said leaning back in her lazy chair. 
“It’s alright, not a problem.” Marmar voice was like milk and honey; smooth and sweet.  She was perched on the table chair, combing her fingers through her long, thick, black hair.
Chelsi stuck the spoon back in the oatmeal, forcing herself to finish the last few bits. “So I think what we’re going to try and do is hit every house between her and the lodge.  Then we’ll spend the night at the lodge, this way tomorrow you’re a much closer walk to the tarmac, to get where ever you need to go and I’ll just walk to Kamyanga and pick my bike.” She had to work her jaw a little to finish chewing her words. 
“Alright.” Marmar, finished with her hair, stood up to adjust the contents of her bags. “Do you want to break up what we’re going to say and practice while we wait?”
During the month of March Peace Corps pushed volunteers to do malaria awareness activities in their villages.  What had kept her from undertaking these activities on her own was not lack of knowledge about malaria; oh my goodness some much malaria training. But lack of confidence in her vocabulary to speak on the subject with non-English speakers and self-consciousness of the feeling of forcing herself on people; sauntering on to their compound, changing the conversation, inviting yourself in to their bedroom, then having to see them the next day. 
“Sure.” Chelsi paused, trying to recall the vocabulary she did know. “I can talk about bed nets.”
“Okay, and I can talk about transmission and treatment. That it’s only transmitted by mosquitoes, and by mosquitoes that are come out at night. That the symptoms are; headache, diarrhea, vomiting, fever. And that you have to go to the clinic to get tested and if you’re positive you need to take all your medication as directed.”
Chelsi jumped in with her end, “The best way to prevent malaria is sleep under a mosquito net at night.”
“Mmmhmm, and the net needs to be tucked in to the mattress or reed mat and that any holes bigger than a 50 ngwee need to be patched.” Chelsi had often wondered how Health volunteers spent their three months of training, now she was starting to form an image: weeks on weeks of roleplaying malaria, HIV and nutrition talks.
Wow, Chelsi stood up to peek outside. They were waiting on her village counterpart, Austin, to get started. “I’m really glad you’re here Marmar. This wouldn’t be happening without you.” The morning was grey, and a light drizzle fell, but Chelsi was sure it would burn of by mid-day.
“Why?” Marmar’s question was filled more with concern than curiosity.
“I don’t know,” She sighed.  That’s not true, “this just isn’t the type of activity that comes naturally to me. And with you here, it keeps me from backing out at the last minute.” She turned to look back at Marmar, who had stopped fiddling with her bag. “You’re keeping me accountable!”
Marmar’s face lit up in a big smile, “well I’m glad I can help!”
They past the last few minutes waiting silently. When Chelsi saw Austin’s bright red shirt come up her path she glanced at her watch. 8:30, not bad.

Chelsi glanced at her watch. She was starting to feel the heat of the day beat down on her, and she was dragging under the weight of her pack. Before starting out Chelsi had figured they’d be spending five minutes tops at each compound: ‘This is wait you need to know about malaria. Do you have a bed net? Yes, no? If yes, can we take your picture with it?” But the way they were going at it, they were averaging 15 minutes per compound. Which is good. Marmar is very personable and through. But we are never going to reach the end at this rate.  It had taken them four hours to walk what usually took Chelsi half an hour and they still had a two hour plus walk ahead of them to the lodge. 
“Marmar, this is going to have to be our last compound, otherwise we are never going to make it to the end.”
“What time is it?”
“13:30.” She looked over at Austin who was help Marmar carry her few to many things. “I think this is going to have to be our last house.  We’re trying to reach Mitukutuku before the sun goes down so that Marie is close to the road to go home tomorrow.”
Austin’s response was a protest, “but why are you leaving us so soon, Marie? You need to stay for at least three weeks.” Yes, because in Zambia you have not visited unless you have stayed for at least three weeks.
“She has her own village to go back too, and I’m sure they have been missing her. Plus she’ll be back.  We were talking about doing some nutrition training later this year,” Chelsi answered for her. “Come now,” they turned up the path to their last compound.
“Mwaiyi Mwane!” Bamaama Kayambo greeted them.
“Mwane,” their group resounded together.  Davis, his sister, a cousin, his father, mother, and a dozen children were already crowded in the chinzanza.  At the approach of their group there was a great shuffling of seats to make room for the new comers. 
After a flury of greetings Chelsi began the dialog that had now been burned on to her brain.  “Jizhina jabo Ba Marie. Baikala mu Mufumbwe ne bafujisha bya bumi. Ne Mwayuka ami, Chelsi, ne Ba Austin, ne Ba Menace.  Lelo tusakwisamba bya malaria.  Malaria, maji ka?”
Malaria is a disease!’ many of the children enthusiastically responded.  ‘It’s an illness spread by mosquitos’ one of the adults said. ‘It can make you very sick’ said another.
“Bolongo!, Tuyuka inge tujina malaria biyepi?” Chelsi carried on the conversation.
There was some silence before Bamaama spoke up ‘the person becomes hot.’
“Eee mwane!” Marmar used her tailored vocabulary and hand motions to mimic the remaining symptoms. “Ke inge muji bolongo ne, muuba ka?”
‘You must go to the clinic’ one of the older children chimed in.
“Right!” Marmar’s enthusiasm picked up even more with his interaction. “Can I get a Malaria Keylow!” Marmar clapped her hands together six times and made a buzzing X in the air with her hands.  The whole chinzanza cracked up with laughter, then copied her. 
Each member of their group took up their part one last time.  And Chelsi’s heart warmed when Austin and Menace, who had just tag along after they visited his house, took up considerable chunks of the conversation about transmission and prevention. Because that’s the point.  Transferring knowledge to people who are permanent members of the community. 

Categories: Adventure, DIY, Science & Technology, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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