Posts Tagged With: Lusaka

103: Ring Out

Chelsi stood in the crowed semi-circle on the lawn of the Lusaka Peace Corps office.  Having arrived a few minutes late with her friends Thomas and Janelle, they were positioned at the outside of the circle, facing in towards the rim of a car wheel, painted white and suspended from a tree.  Leon, Peace Corps Zambia’s country director was make some statement about how proud he was of all of those who had completed two years of service in country.  The sound of his voice mostly passed through Chelsi’s ears as noise. She personally felt that a lot of the administration in Lusaka thought of volunteers as a nuisance; that their jobs would be much easier if only there weren’t any volunteers.

“Good thing we left early,” Thomas whispered.

“Even though we were late?” Chelsi laughed.

“I know, I can’t believe they moved up the time by a half an hour, then only told like a handful of people,” Janelle whined.

“Well, you know, they did it for people like you guys, who are trying to get to the airport by 10 this morning.”

“I know, I told Cleopher to have Janelle and I be some of the first to ring out so that we can get in a cab right away.”

Ring out, Chelsi thought to herself, the ceremonial whacking of a stick against the car wheel, signaling the end of a Peace Corps Volunteers service.  Chelsi wasn’t one for a lot of pomp and circumstance.  But she wasn’t here for herself, she was here to support and say good bye to all the friends. It was the final day of their service; Thomas and Janelle, Ryder, Tyler, Laura, Jason.

“Where’s Jason?” Chelsi asked looking around.  They had seen him on the street, walking away from the office. He was trying to say something about identification. But that was some time ago and it was nearly his turn to ring out.

The Program Manager for the LIFE project started listing the names of the volunteers.  One by one, the volunteers walked to the center of the circle, took the stick from Leon, whacked the wheel, returned the stick, received a commemorative Peace Corps Zambia pin, and shook some hands.

“I don’t know,” Thomas replied looking around. “We saw him walking the wrong direction on the street. Figured though he’d have made it by now.”

“How come, how come, how come they’re not passing out certificates?” Janelle ask, staring intently between Leon and the Program Managers.

“We already got our certificates of completion.” Chelsi started, “remember at the COS conference? They passed them out on the second day.”

“But then why did you get one? And Oli! You guys are extending, or what if someone Early Terminated during community exit? They wouldn’t have completed!”

“Admin probably figures, if you made it this far, then close enough.” Thomas laughed.

Cleopher, the Manager of Chelsi’s Rural Aquaculture Promotion program, took the center of the circle.  He had already made his speech about what a joy we had all been to work with, and how he wished us nothing but the best in our future endeavors.  So he went straight into calling names.

“Janelle that’s you,” Thomas nudged her forward when her name was called.

“What! What! Do I do? Is this it?” she walked forward looking a little dazed, but her feet fell in line with the rest.

“Jason!” Cleopher called out next.

The circle was silent. Then there was crashing sound at the security gate.

“Sorry, sorry… sorry, sorry, sorry,” Jason came stumbling out from the guard house. “Don’t worry everyone, the Train is here,” he called walking quickly across the parking yard.

The perimeter of the circle parted ways to let him through.  “Oh Jason, it’s nice to see you could make it,” Cleopher laughed as he pasted him stick.  Jason walked out to the center of the circle, turned his left forearm to the sky and pressed the tip of the stick in to the head of the serpent tattooed on his arm.

“May the dark lord rise again,” the eternal Voldemort fan shouted, before casting a spell at the wheel and returning the stick to Cleopher.

Spotting his friends in the circle, Jason came to stand by Thomas, Janelle and Chelsi.

“Glad to see you made it, Jason,” Thomas squeezed his shoulders.

“Yeah, man, just in time to leave.”

Categories: Action, Current Events, Drama | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

095: Lusaka Botanical Gardens

“Good thing Cleopher mentioned that the Department of Fisheries office was just across the street, otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to get off,” Chelsi said starting off away from the minibus.

“Oh man that minibus, it was so crammed in there, within 10 seconds I couldn’t feel my feet.” Chelsi’s friend Oliver shook out his long legs and followed just behind her.

“Yeah, I hate minibuses. And this particular ride is a long one.  But we made it.” Sign with an arrow was painted along the wall, advertising the direction of the Lusaka Botanical Gardens.  “I’m glad too, I couldn’t just keep sitting around Kabulonga any longer.”

“Me too.”

The two friends passed through the bright orange, wrought iron gates, guarding the entrance to the park.

“If I remember correctly it’s like 20 or 25 kwacha to get it in.” Across the empty grass and gravel parking lot they entered a small brick reception room.  “I’m glad it’s a Thursday in February too, so it’s not crowded.”

“Good Morning,” the fashionably dress receptionist greeted them.

“Well, hello there!” Oliver returned as exuberant as ever. “We’re here to see the garden.”

The receptionist smiled and laughed.

“We have come to the right place?” Chelsi added, reaching for her wallet in her bag.

“Yes, you have.  It is 30 kwacha per person to enter.”

Chelsi sighed and dug through her wallet. “I have a 50, do you have a 10 Oliver?”

“Yeah, sure, of course.” He riffled through his pockets until he found a 10 kwacha to place on the counter.  When the receptionist finished filling out the receipt for two, she tore it from the book and handed it to Chelsi.

“When you exit the office, the animals are off to the left and the gardens, straight ahead.”

“Thanks!” Jovially Oliver led the way into the garden.

“Last time I was here,” Chelsi started, “it was dry season. So everything was brown, and dry and dead.  And that was,” she had to pause to recount, “nearly two years ago now. Which is why I wanted to come back now, you know, during rainy season. So I could see the plants with flowers on them.”

“Yeah, I was hoping to take some cutting so I could plant them around my house too.” Oliver took in their surroundings.  An old stone atrium, over grown with a flowering purple vine, lay just before them on a path leading to a bridge over a small creek.

“Well that purple vine looks nice,” Chelsi pointed out.

“Do you think it’ll grow from a cutting?”

“I don’t know, but this is Zambia.  Even dead sticks start to grow when you stick them in the ground.”

Oliver laughed.

“Are you going to plant them at the new house? The one at Paul’s place?” Oliver was extending along with Chelsi, only he was moving only down the road from his current site to help a missionary farmer start an aquaculture facility.

“You know, I don’t know. I guess I can plant them at the new house.”

“You’ll be able to enjoy them there longer. 14 more months!” Chelsi raised her hand and Oliver gave her a high-5.

“Alright! 14 more months.”

Reaching the atrium, Chelsi took a seat on bench, while Oliver search for tender off shoots to collect for his garden.  Across the stream was a broad leafed plant with red flowers. Like birds of paradise, Chelsi thought but drooping. Farther off Chelsi could see the path leading to flowering bushes. No, those aren’t flowers. She could see against the green backgrounds, the white, yellow, orange, brown, purple flowers fluttering, because they’re butterflies. 

“Where to next?” Oliver’ voice broke her focus.

Chelsi pointed across the stream, “maybe some of that bush over there.  It seems to be attracting lots of butterflies.  That might be nice.”

“Okay, let’s go!” Oliver waited for Chelsi to collect her things, then the pair crossed the bridge together, to the bushes filled with butterflies.

 

Categories: Adventure, 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

091: mere Volunteers

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

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

“Laura’s gone again?”

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

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

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

“Oh no! Why?”

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

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

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

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

“I might have seen it.”

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

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

“Right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They embraced, “Congratulations!”

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

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

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.

 

Categories: Drama | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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