Posts Tagged With: ONE MORE YEAR

104: Siavonga

“Wow, this is so nice,” Chelsi exclaimed, walking out into the cool breeze coming off the lake.  Reaching for the railing of the hotel restaurant’s deck, she stretched her muscles; cramped from sitting in a minibus all day.  The hotel was positioned on the side of a mountain, looking over the Lake Kariba.  Chelsi hadn’t been anticipating the mountains, and got excited when she saw them out the window of the bus; then terrified when the bus careened on the mountain road, conductor hanging out the sliding door of the van. “You got very lucky,” Chelsi said to her recently found friend. “I guarantee my house will not be this nice, nor would be any other place I put you up in!”

“This is a very nice place.” Chelsi met Hans, a Tanzanian national, on her trip to Zanzibar. Her and her friends had been talking about Peace Corps, when Hans over heard them, walked up and mentioned that he was interested in adding a Peace Corps  volunteer to the team of his small NGO.

“And here I picked this time for you to come down thinking that it’d be okay because I would have a house, and what not. But good thing I called to remind Yalelo I was coming today, and they could arrange room for the two of us.” Chelsi had been surprised by the lack of professionalism the fish farm seemed to have.  As a for profit business, she wondered how it managed to run, if they couldn’t even manage to pick up their volunteer from the bus station their appointed date and time.  And what’s this about my house not being ready yet? The whole thing made her apprehensive about meeting the fish farm’s president the following morning.

Hans noticed the twist on Chelsi’s face as she thought. “You know, if you’re having second thoughts about the fish farm you can always come work for Better Nation,” he read her mind.

She threw him a side cast glance, “I only wanted to stay this side if it meant I could do this position; work on the fish farm, do something more closely related to my field.  So far all you have to offer me is a chicken project, and for even less money.  I’ve spent the last 2 years battling chickens!” Chelsi said exasperated.

Hans laughed, his white teeth flashing against the dark backdrop. “Come on now seriously.  Think of all the widowed, and divorced women, single mothers we could help.”  Hans’ grand plan was to help disadvantaged women become financially independent by helping them start small poultry operations.

Chelsi didn’t know that much about keeping chickens, but she always found terrestrial beings easier to care for than aquatic ones, the rules for chickens seem simple enough, proper food, water, housing and vaccination every three months.  The thought of New Castle vaccines gave her a flash back to her dove Spud, whom she’d always had suspected died of New Castle, when exactly two weeks later nearly every chicken in the village dropped dead.  She smiled.

Kerosene lights, used to attract minnows to the small fishing canoes out on the lake, twinkled off the water.  With the reflection of the stars, the lake seemed a more infinite universe than the one in the sky.  Chelsi ran her hand along the curved iron railing.  She thought the thought, that she thought a lot, about what it would be like, would have been like, if she hadn’t extended and just closed her service with the rest of her intake.

Having dodged two lanes of airport traffic, standing on the third, the last median for airport arrivals to be picked up by friends, family members, or rent-a-car shuttles.  With her duffle bag in one hand, the leash of her dog in the other, and overstuffed hiking backpack on her back, she would stare blankly at the airport parking garage across the road; cars whizzing through her field of vision. In the sun it would be warm, but given that arrivals were let out through the airport’s walkout basement, she would shiver when a cool draft came off a bus, bring her back to her current place. She would refocus on the traffic, for her parent’s car, and say to herself ‘Well, that happened…’

“So should we eat? Am feeling hungry,” Hans asked, pulling her attention back to the present moment.

“I was just thinking about Daisy, I hope she’s doing alright.” After deciding to would be too difficult to bring her down to Siavonga for a week, Chelsi had arranged to have her darling dog boarded at the kennel volunteers typically used in Lusaka. The following week Chelsi was to start her home leave.  Home leave being the month of special leave to the States that Peace Corps afforded to volunteers who extended for a third year.

“You have her at a very nice place. Am sure all is good,” He responded.

“All is under control?” She teased him.

“Yes,” he smiled.

“So, should we sit outside here, or maybe there?” Chelsi gestured to the far side of the deck to the right.

“Am feeling just a little bit cold.”

“Yeah, the draft from the lake is stronger than I thought it would be.  Especially for a place everyone was telling me is the hottest in Zambia.” Chelsi starting walking off towards the small building with floor to ceiling windows that revealed a bar, several tall tables and chairs and the forest green felt of a pool table, on the other side of a water lit, bean shaped pool.

Whatever happened instead, instead of the day dream she had had for the last two years, she felt prepared; that nothing could be more difficult than what she had already endured, that nothing could surprise her more than the melancholy she had felt as she drove away from her village for the last time, and nothing would replace the space in her heart for the hardest job she would ever love.

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Categories: Adventure, Fantasy, Mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

088: Close of Service Conference

​Bethany, Bethany, Bethany, Chelsi thought, over and over to herself.  What can I say? The two women had hardly exchanged more than a handful of words until Bethany expressed interest in going on the trip to Kasanka.  And even then, it was a simply yes, then no.  Maybe if she had come, I would have something to say…  It’s not as if we were unfriendly to each other, I’ve only ever heard good things when I hear them. But it’s just that, I never hear about her, she lives two provinces and a world away…

Chelsi tamped down her anxiety for the coming activity she had heard so much about from past COSing intakes.  ‘I drew someone’s name I didn’t even like,’ one volunteer had said.  ‘A lot of people cried’ another had said.  ‘I wish they would have just let us pick people we knew to talk about,’ said still another. ‘It all sounded so fake; It took way too long; I dropped my candle and burned my foot on the hot wax; I guess it was a nice idea…’  Chelsi sighed and wiped her mouth with her napkin.  

“Are you alright, girl?” her friend Rachel asked from across the dinner table.  

“Yeah, I just wish they would make announcements about extension already.  The applications said they would let us know by the 11th, and it’s now the 19:30 on the 11th.”

Rachel laughed, “You know its Peace Corps, what did you expect?”

“That and all this rich food is really doing a number on my stomach and lower bowel. I’ve been sick for the last 15 out of 20 days now and this really isn’t helping.”

Rachel rolled her eyes and smiled at her friend, “Then stop eating it!” 

“But it’s sooo good!”

“Excuse me, if I could have everyone’s attention.” Gloria, the most recent American to join Peace Corps Admin in Lusaka stood from her chair just behind Chelsi.  

Chelsi heart jumped a beat. She didn’t turn around.

“I have some exciting announcements to make.  I have just received an email from your country director Leon, with the list of volunteers who are being invited to extend their stay with Peace Corps Zambia. First, I would like to congratulate all of you who applied, good work, I know you have all been working very hard. Alright,” Gloria slipped a pair of read glasses on to her nose, “first we have, Laura Shepard, who will be staying in her village another six months!” Applause and cheers rose up around the dining room. “Next, Laura Mckinstry, who will be extending her stay in Central Provence for 13 more months. Ray and Liz will be joining our partners in Kasama together, for 13 more months.  Daniel, from Lulapula, will be moving to Lusaka, to continue his great work on Girls can Code. And Chelsi will be joining the team at Yalelo, in Siavonga district.  Oliver, Oliver has been invited to stay at Mujila Falls farm for 13 more months as well.” And with that Gloria slipped the glasses off her nose, “I would like to thank again all those who applied and to all of you for your great work in the field.”

“There you go, good work,” Rachel said when Chelsi looked up at her.

“Congratulations! I didn’t even know you applied for an extension,” and her friend Chris gave her a solid high five.

“WAIT, wait there’s one more,” Shoo shouted across the dining room. “I, Amy Shuman will be extending with USAID in Chipata. Thank you, thank you all for remembering me.”

Oops, Rachel’s face grimaced at Peace Corps’ mistake.  

When Shoo finished, Gloria stood back up. “Now that it’s evening time, when you’re all finished with your dinner I ask the you move on to our next activity, down by the tennis courts, our candle light ceremony.”

Chelsi sighed and stared at the remaining food on her plate. “Come on, let’s go,” Rachel prompted her.  

On the porch off the tennis courts, nineteen chairs were arranged in a circle with a fire lit at the head.  “Please if you can all take a seat,” Cleopher, her program manager asked when it looked like everyone had arrived.  “Fraiser is coming around with candles, if you could all take one.” Chelsi took her candle and slipped on the wax catch.  “I hope you have all been enjoying your Close of Service conference so far.”

“Yeah this place is beautiful,” Matt replied to Cleopher’s rhetorical statement, but a lot of volunteers hollered in agreement.

Cleopher chuckled, “yes, yes.  We just wanted to thank you all for the work you’ve been doing out in the villages.  You’ve all been working very hard, and even if fish farming hasn’t worked out in your village, you’ve adapted to take on the challenges unique to your communities and have made a difference in the lives of real people.  Now most of you have just three, four months left and we’ve been talk this week a lot about going home, how to adjust, what to expect,  we wanted to take this time for all of you to reflect on the relationships you have made here.  Everyone has some ones name from the envelope yesterday?” He took a brief scan of the circle.  “Good, so if someone can volunteer to start, you can say something about the person whom you drew yesterday, then use your candle to light theirs, and we’ll keep going around the circle till everyone’s candle is lit.  Is there a volunteer who would like to start?”

Chris raised his hand, and after a little confusion over how to lite the first candle when no one’s candle was lit the lights were dimmed.  

Chelsi listened, laughed and remembered with her fellow volunteers, all the while quietly terrified for her turn to come.  It was a mystery who would speak about her until Janelle stood up.  It sounded like a blur of vague compliments until her name was mentioned, and her work on Camp TREE and her tipsy humor. And her heart began to race when the wick of her candle was lit. 

Stick to the plan, stick to the plan, she told herself.  “Thank you Janelle.  Umm,” Chelsi struggled with her candle in one hand while tying her scarf around her hips with the other. “I’m not so great with words, and with so much to say, I couldn’t chose, so ummm,” she walked across the circle to the chair next to Bethany’s. “Could you hold this for me, yeah, just like this,” Chelsi handed her candle off to Matt, and regain her place in front of her empty chair.  “Instead I’ve prepared this short, interpretive dance,” there was sudden whooping and hollering from the circle of volunteers.

“Do you want us to drop a beat!?” someone called from the crowd. 

“No, no, no silence is fine.” Deep breath, deep breath. Side step, step, step. Twirl, leap, spin, step, step, she went through the motions again in her head, then her feet left the ground.

When Chelsi had finished the room was more quiet than at any time before, and she was left on one knee in front of Bethany, reaching out for the candle left in Matt’s hand.  Transferring the flame to Bethany she said, “It’s been an honor to serve with you in Zambia, I’m only sorry we didn’t get to know each other better.  But I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about you.  I wish you all the best on the rest of your service and all your future endeavors.” True words to all of you.  

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

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