Posts Tagged With: so alone never alone

093: ka Mbuzhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, what do you know?”

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

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

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


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

071: Chisemwa cha Festival

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She gracefully accepted it, “crowded.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Should we go?”

Rider shuttered, “people. Noise.”

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

“It’s been quite the weekend.”

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

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

063: Grass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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