Posts Tagged With: life goes on

096: the Flood

Daisy whimpered, tap dancing her toes on the porch, wagging her tail excitedly.  “Awww, did you miss me baby girl? I missed you, ohh yeah, I miss you baby girl!” The more excited Chelsi made her voice the more excited her puppy became.  “Come on, let’s go inside, come on, let’s go!” Chelsi laid her bags down on the concrete bench of the porch.  Over at the door, she twisted the combination lock, right, right, left, right, and it clicked open. Chelsi loosened the bolt on her door and pushed it open.

“You have got to be kidding me,” the words escaped her mouth as she looked around the room.

Water pooled, puddled and flowed between the various angles and dips of her floor.  Looking to her left she found that her table had been turned in to a bird bath.  The press board top, saturated, bowed down towards the floor, collected water in to a little pool, all I need to do is let the birds in.

Needing to let her eyes refocus, Chelsi looking towards the back wall.  The pots and pans rack had fallen again, no doubt the ka pushi knocked it down again, trying to jump up onto the back wall.  Her eyes followed along the back wall, till it stopped at a crack in the mortar.  That new though. Chelsi picked her way through the puddles to get a closer look. The new crack started a brick layer from the top of the wall and followed the mortar down, like a stairway to the land of broken hopes and dreams. It let the traveler off in a muddy pond that covered the toes of Chelsi’s shoes. “And now my socks are wet.” She said turning around to look at Daisy, who only wadded in to water to follow fish, and otherwise avoided it at all costs.

Chelsi sighed, walking back to the doorway.  She removed her shoes and peeled off her socks, hanging them over the cross beam of her porch to dry. With her broom in hand, she followed the back to the deepest part, and with nothing else to do, began sweeping it out.  Chelsi thought back to a story Rolla, a volunteer of the 2014 – 2016 class, had told.  After breaking her collar bone and spending six weeks in South Africa, she said she home to ‘a mosquito breeding ground of epic proportion.  Water as far as the eye could see.’ Her next step was to close the door and tell her host family that she would be living in their house until they cleaned it up… Chelsi didn’t have that flare for dramatics, and was nauseated by even the idea of staying in her host family’s house. It was better built, but dark and musty, with no spare space.  And after six weeks, sure, I getting it. A little bit of water added every day from the rain.  But I’ve only been gone for ten days maybe. She continued to push the water towards the door.

There had been a heavy rainstorm a few day previous, in town. And it wasn’t unlikely that it her village, with rain that heavy it could have slid under the door, and there is a leak over the table, but the counter top? There’s never been a problem there. She swept and swept the water towards the door, and like the waves she created with her broom, anger, disappointment and sadness swelled, then subsided, swelled and subsided inside her.

When the floor was clear, though far from dry, Chelsi stopped to stretch out her back and survey the damage to the table and counter top.

Chelsi brushed the water from the top of the table.  The finish, once again fully hydrated had become yellow and sticky.  The forward left leg was warp, and little bits of black colored mold were creeping out of the joint.  Chelsi wiped it away with her finger.  “The only thing left to do, is to hope it dries okay,” she said to Daisy, who was now taking a few uneasy steps into the house.

Chelsi was most puzzled by the story of the counter top, which she now scrutinized.  The wood itself was a lot sturdier than the table, but everything on top was saturated.  She began by moving everything to wipe it down.  As she worked her eyes drifted back to the wall, to the crack.  She followed it up this time to the corner where the roof met the wall.  “Ugh…” escaped from her subconsciously, and the mystery was solved.  She dropped the rag she was using to clean and walked out the door. Slipping into her flip flops she rounded the house to view the suspect corner from the outside.  And there it is….

What she was confronted with was a collapsed support beam.  The beam the held up the frame of her roof had fallen to the wayside, pulling the frame apart with it.  A large crack now ran up the seam of her roof to the top.  She hadn’t noticed it inside because it was covered by plastic.  Now that same plastic acted like funnel, dumping any water that fell on the south side of the roof right into her house.

Chelsi dragged herself back inside, unsure what to do.  If it had just been a rip in the plastic she could have covered it with tape.  A crack in the wall? Fill it with mud. A collapsed roof? A brand new roof? Not nine months old? She picked up her phone and dialed the number of her volunteer leader, Laura.  She listened to the phone ring, ring, ring….

“Hello?” the voice of her friend sounded through the speaker.

“Hey,” Chelsi responded. “I think I have a problem.”

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

092: Birthday Bananza

26, 26, 26, Chelsi thought over and over to herself, stepping out of the cold shower at the Pace Corps bunk house in Lusaka.  Two times 26 is still only 52. I can’t imagine that the next 26 years will be anything like the first 26 years. But probably, maybe the next six will be like the last six.  After toweling off and brushing out her hair, she slipped in to her blue dress with elephant chest pocket.  I guess I knew what years 24 and 25 were going to be like.  And now if I stay in Zambia, move to Siavonga; that will be year 26 and half of 27. WOW, 27 is awfully close to 30. Chelsi slipped her shoes back on, collected her things and left the bathroom.

The bunk house in Lusaka was reserved for volunteers called to the main office for medical reasons.  It was Chelsi’s first time, though she didn’t identify at all with her current bunk mates.  None of them were people she had ever seen before, and nearly all of them were coughing, sneezing, red faced.  The handful of them well enough to stand were now collected in the common room, through which Chelsi had to pass to make it outside to the bunks.  She didn’t want to be unfriendly, but she was concerned about the contagiousness of their afflictions, and she would be leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow, which didn’t leave a lot of time for making friends.

She smiled and greeted them as she passed through.  They were chatting about what to order for dinner, when a large red bearded volunteer stopped her. “We were going to order some take out. Do you want us to get you anything?”

Chelsi’s smile widened by the gesture. “Ummm, thank you. But, it’s actually my birthday, so I’m going to go out…” She looked around at the blank faces, “It’s not that you’re not all invited, but I’m going out with all of your PCVLs. So I figured none of you would be interested in coming anyway. You know, it’s not all that great to party with your boss…” Chelsi felt a little bit awkward, but it was all true. Plus they’re basically strangers.

“Oh so you’re a PCVL?” a curly brunette sitting on one of the old couches asked. “Of which province?”

“No, no, no, I’m not a PCVL. I’m just at the point in my service where all of my friends have become PCVLs.” Clearly none of them have been in country for more than a year, Chelsi thought. That’s why none of them look familiar.

“Oh, okay,” the group kind of nodded in collective understanding.

“Well, have fun,” the bearded one added as Chelsi slipped out of the room.

When Chelsi arrived at the meeting place to catch a taxi with her friends, it looked like everyone was already waiting for her. “Hey, dude!” Her friend Sara waved her over. “We were almost starting to think you weren’t going to make it.”

“Nelson, we’re waiting for a man named Nelson,” Justen said over and over to other taxi drivers, harassing him for business.

“Everything’s ready, the restaurant has our reservation. I just called to reconfirm that they’re expecting us,” Ginny had agree to be head of the party planning committee.

“How are you feeling? What did the dentist say?” Chelsi’s PCVL, Laura asked.

“I feel fine now. He definitely thinks it’s my jaw and that some kind of special mouth guard or split he called it, should do the trick.” Chelsi looked around for the last member of their party.

“Ah! Ba Nelson!” Justen motioned the rest of them to a taxi on the far side of the parking lot.

There she is, Chelsi thought spotting Lani on the other side of Justen.   Chelsi snuck up behind her and gave her a big bear hug.

“Ohh,” Lani let out with a laugh. “There you are. Are you ready to have your best birthday yet?”

Chelsi smiled and gave Lani another big squeeze. The two women laughed.

Categories: Current Events | 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?”

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074: Gloomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” Chelsi replied with a sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ummm,” Laura looked about equally confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?! How’d he manage that?”

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

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

“I think a lot of people did.”

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

“See! And look how far you’ve come!”

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

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072: Colosseum

Chelsi’s champion strode out on to the front porch of her house.  The tuxedo colored kitten was a mere seven weeks, but confident in his stride.  Upon his appearance small group of village boys, Giddie, Willie, and Kingston, let out a squeal from their seat on the bench.

Look, look!” Willie said to the others.  “Ka ka push.”  All their eyes widened, like it was the first cat they’d ever seen.  Chelsi watched them from her seat at the edge of the porch.  She was sure their gleeful nature wasn’t false, but this was far from their first interaction with a cat.  After all, this is my fourth cat, Chelsi thought to herself, regretfully remembering the demise of the previous three.  And I know Mike had at least two cats at some point during his service.

“Jizhina?” Giddie asked, fixing his round, dark eyes on Chelsi.

“Ka ka push? Ka Tulip.”

“Tulip, Tulip, Tulip,” the three boy practiced between themselves.  Tulip paused to clean one of his paws, and Chelsi wiggled her fingers at him to get his attention.

“Giddie, Giddie!” Kingston exclaimed, grabbing the attention of his friend.  “Those small animals we found today, where are they?”  Giddie’s face beamed with a smile and he leaned forward, tugging on the string of his toy truck.  The truck, made of discarded plastic and wire, rolled towards him on its bottle top wheels.  A really engineer that one could be someday, it was clear to Chelsi that Giddie was the best toy car maker in all the village, and every day nearly he was pulling about a new style.  When the truck’s rolling came to a stop, Giddie gingerly picked it up and from the back compartment plucked up toy baby dormice.

“Crickee,” Chelsi said with some surprise, “it’s even got passengers today. Mwatanna pi?”  Chelsi didn’t fully understand the answer, but gathered that he found the nest out in the bush by his house.  She continued to watch with great interest as to what the boys had in mind next.  When just then Giddie dropped the two round, fuzzy grey bodies on to the cement and nudged them towards Chelsi’s kitten.

The baby dormice were too young to make any meaningful get away.  One wiggled its undersized legs, pushing itself on its belly to the corner by Chelsi’s door.  Its litter mate squeaked.  The less intelligent move, Chelsi noted as Tulip’s ear perked up in its direction.

To some surprise, Chelsi was not immediately overcome with moral outrage at the activities that were unfolding before her.  First, not that the infant mice were disturbed from their nest, nor that they had then been pulled around by a child in a toy truck all day, and not now, seeing that the boys intention were to watch this baby on baby animal battle, hoping no doubt for it to end in the bloody demise of the dormice.

Tulip started towards his first contender.  When the kitten pressed his nose in the plump body of the mouse it let out low chirt chirt chirt sound.  Tulip, surprised, recoiled.

What could I say that the boys would understand…? Not much, she decided.  She knew the children went in to the bush on necessity, looking for food and that mice, particularly dormice, were not off the menu.  Not to mention mice, particularly dormice, are a grievous house pest. Better food for the kitten.

Tulip had revised his approach to the protesting dormouse and was now slapping it with his paw.  With every slap, the baby dormouse let out a squeak, chirt chirt chirt.

The boys were pointing with interest, discussing the play by play amongst themselves.  And as Giddie had noticed the second baby dormouse trying to escape, he picked it up and deposited it in to his chest pocket.

I do want the kitten to learn to eat mice, Chelsi reasoned with herself, putting the best spin on the current circumstance that she could.  That why I keep trying to keep cats.  The truth was, just one week without a cat and her house was overrun with mice and rats.  She thought about the last rat she saw, not a few days before, just after returning home with Tulip from Mwinilunga.  Chopping vegetables for dinner that night at the table, she heard a rustling in the thatch of her roof.  When she turned to see what it was, a giant rat was jumping out of the grass of her roof on to the top of her wall. She could still vividly recall the green glisten to its eyes.

Tulip continued batting the baby dormouse with his paw.  The few attempts he had made to lower his head the baby dormouse had bit him on the nose.

Tulip’s probably never really eaten anything live before.  This kitten had come from her friend Oliver’s house, about 30 km south of Mwinilunga.  At the time she had gone to see him and retrieve the kitten Oliver was caring for: two dogs, seven puppies, a cat, six kittens and a flock of improved laying chickens, though thankfully those were not also sharing his house.  But Oliver is a dutiful keeper and Chelsi was sure all of his animals had been plumped on its most appropriate animal feed. And with so much food about there would have been no need for Tulip’s mother to hunt.

When there was the sound of soft bones being crushed, one of the boys let out a gasp breaking up Chelsi’s train of thought.  She reigned in thousand mile stare, and focused on her kitten.  Tulip had finally mustered up his courage and had gone face first, mouth open, at the tiny fuzzy body.  Bright red blood began to bead-up on its grey fur.  With the last of its fight there was a furious chirt chirt chirt. 

It makes sense now, why animals are so attracted to squeaky toys.

Tulip pressed down with his paws and gnawed with his needle like teeth.  Shortly thereafter the incessant chirting ceased.

The boys, still perched on the bench giggled.  As the first mouse disappeared inside the kitten, Giddie revealed the second one.  The human beings attraction to blood sports can’t be denied, for even Chelsi had a hard time looking away now.

The second baby dormouse sat stock still, hoping not to be noticed.

Like two beasts in the colosseum.  Chelsi watched at Tulip followed his blood covered nose towards the second little dormouse.  Or more like the lion and a Christian martyr. 

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058: Kijilo

Chelsi readjusted her sit bone on the reed mat beneath her.  On her approach, a few moments ago, another woman had evacuated it for her. She was one in a sea of women sitting, legs stretched out, on reed mats and mealie meal sacks. They chatted quietly among themselves, many staring over at Daisy who was busily situating herself on the mat beside Chelsi. A fire burned on her other side, lit the night before to keep the overnight funeral attendants warm.

All the women were just becoming resettled when sudden wail disturbed them.  Chelsi looked through the fire to a small grass hut at the center of the compound.  She knew that is where the body of the dead woman lay. In life they were the woman’s private quarters, but when death seized her last the previous evening it, became her funeral house.

“Maama! Maama!” a woman cried from inside the small room.  When the news had spread of the woman death, woman and men, who were seated apart on benches in the distance, relatives, friends, from as far as a two hour walk away began collecting at the house.  Only the women of the family would grieve with the body, but their force was enough for the whole community.

Her friend, Ba Paskarina, nudged her arms. “Ba Chels,” she said in a hushed voice to ensure she had her attention.  The old woman began to stand, carrying her mealie meal sack with her.  Chelsi nod with attentiveness but watched before acting. She was not as accustomed to funerals as some other volunteers had become and was still shy to ensure she was observing conventions.  Ba Paskarina shifted over to the hut, spreading out the mealie meal sack in the shade up against the grass wall. She settled herself and patted the space beside her.  Chelsi could not deny that it was becoming hot in the sun, so she moved to be beside her friend.  Daisy on the other hand stretched out in the open space.

Through the wall Chelsi could feel movement from inside the hut.  The wailing had momentarily ceased, and she could hear some soft words being spoken but could only make out a few. “Bamaama…. ya… ikala… ya…” Ba Paskarina stared silently at her hands, turning them over and over in her lap.  Usually, she was an outspoken, confident woman, much bigger than her size. But today her somber manner was cut to fit.  Chelsi knew the deceased woman had been a close relation of hers.

When first invited the funeral, Chelsi had been apprehensive about coming. She did not know the deceased woman, she did not know the wailing women. Lacking grief she thought she needed to not feel awkward about her attendance, she had felt anxious when first sitting down.  Now though, she understood her attendance as part of a chain of support.  Her presence was a comfort for her friend, who in turn was a comfort to her sister, who was supporting the body her wailing niece, over the loss of her mother, as she led her out of the hut and into a nearby house.

 

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053: MidS

Mid-Service Training, it marked the one year anniversary of having sworn in as a volunteer.  All the volunteers that swore in May of 2015 were gathered in Lusaka meetings.  One in particular Chelsi had heard older volunteers talk about: The Bridge.

For whatever reason, Chelsi thought to herself, Peace Corps seems obsessed with metaphorical bridges. She was tired, it was the last session of a long day. Everyone else was doodling on their note pads or dozing.  Chelsi felt a little pity for Jesse, the newest addition to the Peace Corps Zambia, Lusaka staff, as she started her presentation.

“This is a session that I inherited from Heather, who inherited it from her predecessor.  So, this is only my second time doing it so bear with me.” Her curly red hair bobbed around her ears as she began passing out papers.  “On the pieces paper is a wheel and in each section there is a ummm, portion of the experience of being a volunteer.  And for the next few minutes I want you all to score, not satisfied to fully satisfied as to how you think you’re doing in each section.”

Chelsi looked down at the paper.  It was a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, of who knows how many generations.  The sections were label: Personal Growth/Spirituality, my work, connection with family/friends, village life and my role in the community etc.  Chelsi didn’t have a pen, or the energy to really it fill out. She waited until another sheet came around.

“Look at the portions were you are least satisfied and take a few moments about how you can improve in these places, become more satisfied. What actions can you take? How do you know you’re improving and who can keep you accountable?” Jesse turned a piece of paper around in her hands that looked identical to the one Chelsi was now holding.  Waiting for the next few moments to pass Chelsi looked around the chinzanza the session was being held in.  Around on the support beams for the grass thatched roof were white computer paper signs. I’m taking it day by day, everyone is doing better than me, I’m having a blast and Chelsi looked at the last one, hanging just behind her.  YES, that’s the one for me.

“Okay, you guys can take these home if you’re not finished and finish them there. But let’s move on.  Around our a, space here, there are signs.  I want you to move under the one that best fits were you are in your service right now.” The volunteers started to shuffle around as Jesse talked.  Chelsi just skootched her chair back a bit and watch the rest of her intake split up under the three other signs.  “And once you’ve sorted yourselves talk to the other volunteers under your same sign about why you chose where you are, maybe some of the challenges you’ve been facing, or what has been working well.”

Chelsi sat alone under her sign.  I’m not whole surprised by this. She understood the connotation of her choice, how it would be perceived by the other volunteers.  After quickly ordering her thoughts she surveyed the chinzanza again.  About half of the group sat under ‘day by day’, the other half under ‘I’m having a blast’. Only one sat under, ‘Everyone is doing better.’ Chelsi picked herself up and walked over to Ben.

“Hey man, I thought you could use some company for now.” He accepted her company and they made a little small talk but mostly sat quietly, alone, together.

“Now! If we can quiet down,” Jesse raised her voice to retake command of the chinzanza. “I want to hear a representative or two to speak from each group.” Chelsi slipped back into her seat. “Let’s start here,” she pointed to ‘day by day’, “and work our way around the room.”

‘Day by day’ quickly recounted their conversation about how hard it is to plan anything in Zambia, about how programs are forever postponed and how much of a struggle it is at times to feel satisfied in their work. But, if they keep reminding themselves to wake-up every morning with a refreshed view, they believe they will make it through to better times.

‘I’m having a blast’ didn’t appoint a representative, but instead talked over each other about how many new friends they have made, how some programs have been a great success, and how they found moments of joy in the ones that flounder. They loved their day to day freedom and glowed with hope about their prosperous future.

Between them was Ben, ‘everyone’s doing better them me.’  He told of how he felt pretty good about how his service was going, until he came to Mids and talked to his fellow volunteers.  “It just seems like everyone has done all these great things to help their communities.  Or they have really big programs planned and I think about what I’ve done and it seems like not much…”

Chelsi’s heart sank some for Ben. But before she was given the last word Jesse chimed in, from her perch on the front table. She looked directly down at Chelsi, “I just want to say before you start, thank you.  It is a really brave position you’re taking.  So many volunteers do feel this way at some point during their service, when they struggle, have set-backs, but it takes a strong person talk about them, especially in a large group like this.” Chelsi sighed inside. “Okay, go ahead.”

She started, pointing at the position across the room. “Day by day,” She shifted her hand to the group to her right, “I’m having a blast. I do whatever I want, pretty much whenever I want and there is always something that needs to be done.” Then moved her hand between the two. “I don’t feel I’m doing better or worse than anyone else here, we’re all just doing things differently and to expect it to be any other way is rather silly.   I know I have to cultivate a feeling of satisfaction for the work I do, and to do this I have to be mindful of the fact that every volunteer is different, as are their communities.  Services aren’t comparable. That’s not to say I don’t feel struggle, because there are times I definitely do, but I think because of this understanding, nothing in my service has felt so insurmountable that I considered going home.  Now, with all of that pretext,” Chelsi took a deep breath. “There are plenty of days, I walk out of my house, look around and ask myself,” she pointed to the sign above her head, “’What am I REALLY doing here?’  There have been a steady stream of volunteers in my area for some 10 years.  And as far as I can tell there has been little to no adoption of Peace Corps promote programs. Childhood malnutrition is rampant in my village, and as far as I’ve seen there’s little to no adoption of improved farming or gardening systems.  Though I believe a lot of that has to do with the government and the mines promoting and propping up this ‘conservation farming’ silliness that is nothing but fertilizer and lime distributions.  There are fish ponds around my area that were dug with the guidance of a volunteer who served 10, maybe more years ago, back when the volunteers here still had motorbikes, that began sitting empty when there ceased to be someone there to hold their hand.  I know what Peace Corps and RPCVs say ‘but you’ll really touch the lives of a few people and make a huge difference for them,’ and sure, I know I’m doing that for a few people in my community, but is that what Peace Corps really wants? Is this a wise way for the agency to be using its resources? For its volunteers to be just the private tutors and personal friends of a couple of people? Because that’s not the sense that I get when I fill out my reporting form every quarter.”

When she finished there was some silence, before Jesse thanked her and asked everyone to stand up.  I guess they were rhetorical questions? Chelsi though when any conversation was decidedly ended by Jesse asking everyone to stand.

Jesse dismounted her perch, shifting over to the nearest exit of the chinzanza. “I want to take that last few minutes of our time together to thank you and give you a little symbolic ceremony about recommitting yourselves to your second year of service.” Chelsi figured coming in to this activity most of her fellow volunteers would approach it with a pretty shallow perspective, but this is a pretty shallow activity given the time frame and the need for reflection.  “Just line up and walk around, when you re-enter, we will shake hands.” Whatever the purpose of Jesse’s ‘props’ before her monolog, Chelsi knew Ben had been the one to be brave; he made himself vulnerable.  Chelsi knew going into it, her contribution wasn’t going to be the one of, struggle, home sickness and need for resilience the group was expecting.

“Come on Kaondes! Hold yourselves together.” Sara shouted at Jason and Chelsi from her place at the end of the formal line.  The former was jumping in and out of the line, over the wall unsure of what was going on and where to go, while the latter was dashing the long way around the chinzanza, out of step with everyone else.

 

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050: Bye for now

Chelsi sat on the padded benches, eyes glued to CNN.  It was playing a news clip of Johnny Depp and his partner apologizing to the Australian government and populous for having illegally imported their two lap dogs.  If she had been thinking she would have thought, ‘oh yeah, this is what passes as news in America.’ But she was too distracted by the flashing lights and colors of the television.

Ginny walked out into the fluorescently lit waiting room through a door shoved in a corner. She was equally distracted but by a slip of paper she held in her hand.  Seeing Chelsi now in periphery of her vision she looked up, “hey,” she said looking up.  Her eyes too, instantly lifted up towards the flat screen hanging on the wall.  “What’s going on? Did something happen?” her voice sounded subtlety worried, when Johnny Depp flashed again on the screen next to a picture of the two small dogs.  “Ohh, pphhhff. What’s wrong with people? This isn’t news!”

Without looking away Chelsi tried to defuse the mood, “Ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

“Good, cause I was starting to get cold sitting in this air conditioning.”

“We just have to stop and get the remained of my money out of the cashier downstairs.” Chelsi stood up and they headed towards the staircase.

“How much were you left with?”

“Ahh, about a thousand kwatcha.” Chelsi’s ears heard the hundred dollar equivalent.

“Damn, use it to buy yourself something nice when you get home.”

“Well I still have to buy a bus ticket.”

“Nothing too nice then.”  The women chuckled.

When they pushed open the door of the bank they were immediately blasted in the face with plume dust and hot air.  “But I mean, how much will you really miss Solwezi?” Chelsi coughed out with a lung full of dust.

“It’s living in my hut, and Harrison.  Man, I’m really going to miss Harrison.”  They took a right out of the bank gates towards the bus station.

“Well, didn’t Chief Mumena tell you that you could stay? You said you were scoping out some house closer to the river.”

“I couldn’t stay in Mumena.  When I talked to Mr. Kahokala and Harrison about… the politics and in fighting there are just too bad. I don’t want to have to deal with all that.” Ginny rolled her eye, Chelsi smiled.

“I am almost finished with my couch, or you can just sleep on my bed! We already make excellent bed mates! Daisy will just have to be relegated to the couch.”

“No, I have to go home.  I have to see that my dad is alright.  I haven’t heard from him in months, and now I have to follow-up with this medical thing…” She paused, looking both ways to see that it was clear for them to cross the street.  Chelsi was great full for this, as she was too busy taking in her last few hours with Ginny to pay attention to the traffic.  Deep down Chelsi knew that if she was going to meet an untimely death that it was probably going to be a traffic accident.  More than HIV/AIDs, malaria, poor nutrition, diarrhea, stroke or snake bite, even a Zambian was likely to get got by a traffic accident; especially in Solwezi with no sidewalks, curbs, crosswalks or pedestrian rights. And Chelsi always figure that only about half a drives had licenses.  After a crumpled looking minibus, packed with people sped by Ginny started her dash across the street.  Chelsi reached out, grabbing her hand and allowing herself to be pulled across the street.

“I do want to come back though.  I’ll miss the people.  They’re just so much more friendly here.  And the men.  All of the beautiful men, who treat me so much better.  In America they look at me like I’m old, used.  I’m not even 50 yet! But here they look up to me because I’m older and a mother. In America, that doesn’t mean anything to people.”

“So, you’re going to go home, finish up your medical stuff, check on your father and come back and stay with me. Until you find a more permanent place.” They navigated the clothing piles, careful to not get to close to the road, or the minibus conductors shouting ‘MITEK, MITEK,’ grabbing peoples arms and throwing them into the bus.

“No,” Ginny sighed. “I have to find a job and make some money first.”

“Why?  Can’t you just come back on your readjustment allowance from Peace Corps?  It’s like what seven grand?”

“No! I have to use that money to buy a car, to get myself to and from my job and stuff.” She pushed back with a smile.

“Okay, okay, fine.  So you buy your car, get your job, save some money. So you’ll be back by like what? October at the latest?”

Ginny shook her head with a smile.

They walked out on to the bus station.  “Well, when you do come back you’re always welcome at my house… I stay just there,” Chelsi pointed in the general direction of her house. “And even if I’m not home, in the back of the house there’s a gap,” she held her hands about a foot and a half apart.

The afternoon sun cast their shadows long on the empty platform.  “Thanks for staying and spending the day with me Chelsi.”

“Of course.” They crossed the doorway into the ticketing office.

“Good afternoon,” the woman sitting behind a boxboard desk greeted them. Chelsi walked around to stand at the side.  A three year old girl stared up at her.

“Hi,” Ginny stood at the front of the desk. “I need a ticket for the morning bus tomorrow to Lusaka.”

“Okay, the 4:30?”

“Yes.”

 

Categories: Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

041: Two steps back

From the time Chelsi saw her first horror film as a child she had practiced mentally preparing herself for finding a lifeless body behind every door.  After all, she reasoned, crisis situations are no time be acting emotionally; especially if there’s an ax murder in the house. Over the last 25 years she had opened the door many limp, lifeless bodies.  Mostly fish, a few reptiles, lots of plants.  But coming home from Mufumbwe last Tuesday, two days later than anticipated, she skipped the mental.  Her house was too small for murder to hide and everything seemed accounted for as she pushed the door open.  Except the excited mews from Poppy, who usually sat just behind the door anxiously waiting for her to arrive. 
She had dropped her stuff just beyond to door and sat her basket full of doves on the table.  She had checked the bushes around the house he like to sit in. Nothing.  Maybe he’s napping in the trees somewhere, she thought returning inside the house.  Daisy wiggled and sniffed excitedly at the doves. 
“Leave’em alone Daisy,” Chelsi had said turning her gaze towards the table. “God damn it,” she sighed. Just beyond the table a lump of glossy black fur was sprawled on the floor. “Go outside Daisy,” she pushed the dog outside, shut the door and opened the curtains to let in the light. 
He still looked full of life, that if Chelsi had just called his name gently he would spring back up.  “This couldn’t have happened more than an hour ago.” Not only were his expelled feces still fresh, but the puddle of urine was still wet and his eyes were still plump and dilated.  There’s not even any ants on them yet, the true test of freshness of anything. 
Using a grocery bag, she picked him up and brought him to her host father.  The top contenders for his demise was poisoning, maybe he ate a rat that had been poisoned, snake bite and ju ju. And that’s where Chelsi stopped the conversation. She knew too many volunteers that had to be removed from their villages after accusation of black magic were made; whether against them or by them.  She had been sad about Poppy, but like so many situations in Zambia the truth wasn’t important, probably didn’t even exist.
But all that was yesterday, she put the break in her mind to help her deal with today’s visits from the reaper.  She was sitting in her folding chair stripping the feathers from her most prized dove.  She was one of four that Chelsi had carried from Mufumbwe. We haven’t even been home for a day… Just after feeding them that morning Chelsi had returned to the house to feed Daisy. Through the open window in the back of the house she sudden heard the fluttering of wings. Good thing I hung that net under the house, she thought. The birds had their flight feathers removed so they would learn that Kamijiji was their new home, and Chelsi had hung a net under and around the house in the event that one of them fell they wouldn’t end up on the ground where one of the other animals could get them.  She hurried herself outside to help the dove back up to the house, but quickly realized her had made a terrible mistake. 
Her host father’s dog Trigger sat just under the bloody net, where the dying dove was cradled.  “You fucking bastard,” she cursed at the dog and looked franticly around for something to chuck at him.  Before she could find something the sound of her voice sent him skittering away.  Daisy and Lion were in tow behind her.  She had never cared for that dog, but had never had a more compelling reason to dislike him.
She reached the dove house in time to hear the speckled white dove make one last coo.  After removing around her porch.  Chelsi tied the net back up, tighter this time and look up at the little girl’s lonely mate.  The odd number would torture her.  She had to call every single person she knew, dragged herself all over Sowlezi and even stopped random people on the street, trying to find people that would be willing to sell her doves and she had still only come away with four. Now it was three.  She needed eight to have an established colony.  Walking back towards her house she wildly threw the rock at Trigger, who took off towards the road with a yelp. 
So now, when she had planned on spending the morning weeding her garden, was feathering the little dove.   Chelsi had ask her host father yesterday to take Poppy to the farm and bury him there because she didn’t know what he died of she didn’t want Daisy digging him up and eating him.  The dove would most certainly be dug up and eaten by one of the dogs, and unjust reward and if she handed off to her host father one of the kids would just eat it, setting the precedent that they would get any dead doves.  She definitely didn’t want to go down that road. 
She had killed and eaten more things than she could remember, but the weight that this one had been so unintentionally it hurt for the first time.  All wanted was the body to be bare so she could at least pretend the circumstance of this meal were different.  When she was done she dropped the tiny bit of poultry into a brine and went out to start on her garden.
Her goal was to finish weeding just one bed of her eight beds.  All the plants had really taken off in the week she was away, including the weeds.  Chelsi was surprised by how long the weeding took too; after two hours she had only finished half a bed.  She stood up to stretch out her knees and back.  Lion and Daisy stood watching her just beyond the garden fence, watching her.  Man, I just built this and the termites are already destroying it, she thought when she notices a few of the fence poles slumped toward the ground. That’ll have to be really close to the top of the list getting fixed. Just beyond the fence though, through the passion fruit vine she saw a mother hen with her seven chick. Not really chicks any more, the plants weren’t the only thing that grew while was gone.
Her smile turned quickly to a frown, “Lion, No!” Chelsi’s yelled but not fast enough.  She rushed through the gate.  Little chicken feet protruded from Lion’s mouth. Lion took a quick leap away.  The commotion caught the attention of Chelsi’s host sister, Juliet. Lion was her husband’s dog.  She hurried over in just enough time to see the wind blow away the last few feathers; Lion’s fate was sealed.  Juliet cursed at the dog in kiikaonde and dragged her away by the rope tied around her neck.  From across the yard Chelsi heard an exchange of thwacks and yelps between Juliet and Lion. It was quiet again in a few minutes and with nothing left for her to do so Chelsi went back to weeding her garden.   
Chelsi retired into her house early that evening.  Before starting dinner she took some cuddle time with her darling Daisy.  She reclined into her chair and scooped her puppy up on to her lap.  Shortly after Chelsi heard Maurice, her host brother-in-law, return from wherever he goes during the day.  The conversation between Juliet and her husband was short, and though Chelsi didn’t catch all the words she understood the intention.  Daisy say quietly, Chelsi whispered sweetly into her ear.  She heard Lion, at the end of her chain, being dragged in to the bush just behind her house. 
THUMP!
YELP!
THUMP!
Yelp.
THUMP…

Categories: Horror, Law, Justice and Order, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

037: the Courageous Lion

Of all the other dogs that members of her host family had brought home, this was the one Chelsi liked the most.  She could never compare to my darling Daisy, but Lion was a sleek, elegantly fashioned dog, with long legs, big paws and a bold, shapely head. Her coat was more of a pale gold, compared to Daisy’s flaxen blonde, and her tail was docked so close that a half an inch more would have removed the upper portion of her anus.  Mostly importantly, she was well mannered, and always ready to slobber Chelsi’s hand with her tongue. 
Chelsi had first noticed Lion about a week before moving back in to her house at the beginning of December, while making a ‘checking in’ visit.  She had observed Lion and Daisy romping together, in the grass of her yard. Then Lion had had a shine in her coat, a glisten in her eye, and a playfulness to her nature.
“And look at you know,” Chelsi sighed looking at the emaciated dog, sitting, shivering in her door way.  Her eyes were dull, draining a white goop, the cresses of her ears were cracked and bloody.  When Chelsi had first seen her after returning with Daisy from Christmas break she thought the poor dog had broken out in some blistering skin disease; the hair all around her neck patchy, with white and blue lumps looking as if they were about to rupture from her skin. When she looked closer, running her figures through her coat she didn’t find blisters, but hundreds of ticks. Some swollen to the size of grapes.  “It was horrifying,” Chelsi said to her aloud, remembering. “It still is.” The onslaught of tick had started more than three weeks ago, and still the owner of the dog, her host brother-in-law, had done nothing to remove them. “Even if he really is giving you dewormer like he says he is, those are probably why you’ve still been losing weight.” Lion repositioned herself on her bony haunches, become anxious listening to Chelsi, without being able to respond. 
The rain began to pitter, patter ever harder beyond the edges of Chelsi’s roof.  Daisy pushed passed Lion, coming through the door looking to get out of the rain. “And look at you, so well mannered. You’re not going to come in unless you’re invited. Unlike that awful bitch Bingo, Gil brought home.  She took every chance she had to bust in here, even when I was poking her with a stick! to steal bags of dog food.  Always intimidating Daisy so she was afraid to come near me. He only likes her because she has that ridge of hair standing up along her back. And Jango, he had to be her brother, he wasn’t much better; skittish and fretful.” Chelsi hadn’t felt the same desire to careful the other dogs, the way she did for Lion. Particularly, she didn’t have any affection toward either of the owners. And perhaps that’s why I feel so much pity for Lion. “Because he doesn’t deserve you… You certainly deserve better than him.” Lion repositioned herself again, slapping her tongue against her nose; clearly unsure whether the continuance of the single-sided conversation was an invitation or not, but cautioning against it just encase a mistaken understanding resulted in a beating.  
From where Chelsi sat, on the stool beside her table she could see the totality of Lion’s thin body between her forelegs; the washboard of her ribcage cut in relief against the gray background of her front cement slab.  Looking on, Chelsi could feel them under her fingers, hear the xylophone-esk sound they made when she ran her fingers along them. 
She let out a deep breath and hung her head. 
Chelsi could see two futures in her mind’s eye:  One, a re-imaging of what she had seen happen to her neighbor’s dog Buma.  Skin and bones, the thick coated white and brown spotted dog curled up under tree, hidden behind tall grass.  When she had Daisy first approach him, on their walk in the bush, he had lifted his head. Daisy sniffed, and continued on. The next day, when Daisy saw him and approached, there was no response. The day after, it seemed less like a dog and more like a lump of matted fur.  They stopped walking that way. Two, take Lion under her care. At least try and ease some of her suffering. Lion’s ultimate fate would still be out of her hands. This isn’t my dog, and it can’t be. She couldn’t take in every animal she felt compassion for; and once you start how do you stop?
“Meow,” Chelsi lifted her head to see Poppy sneak through Lion’s legs and into the house.  The wet kitten shook himself off. The rain was pounding down now, starting to blow in through the open door. Chelsi stood and removed the rock jam, shutting out the storm on the outside. 

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

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