Posts Tagged With: so many things

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.

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

087: A New Year

​Chelsi sunk back onto the dingy green media room couch next to her friend Tyler.  He was leaned forward though, fidgeting with something on the brown wicker coffee table.  

“So how’d it go? How was Zanzibar?” Tyler asked. 

“You mean, beside perfect in every way?” Chelsi voice was long and tired, but Tyler laughed.

“That good, huh? I mean, I heard about the train ride.”

“Oh, yeah, that god damn train! It nearly killed me, like seriously, we almost died.” Chelsi was sincere in the fieriness of her tone.  “Jason came the closest though.  The train car that derailed was the dining car.  Which was also of course the car smack dab in the middle of the train. Then after 18 hours of playing ‘how are you going to fix the train’ they ultimately decided that the dining car had to be left behind. So the only things we had to eat, was whatever we could buy through the window at short station stops… And, and there was no drinking water.”

“Yeah, it was not like that when Jason and I took it last time.”

“That’s what he kept saying. But you know what? I think it worked out for the better.  Because if the train hadn’t been delayed we would have gotten in to town yesterday, instead of today and because I only had one house day left this month, I wouldn’t have been able to stay for New Year’s. I would have been sitting alone in my house like last year.” She paused for a moment, remembering sitting in her now broken easy chair, staring at the clock on her phone; watching the minutes tick by – 23:50, 23:51, 23:52, 23:53, 23:54, 23:55, 23:56, 23:57, 23:58, 23:59, 00:00, 00:01, 00:02, 00:03, 00:04, 00:05, 00:06, 00:07, 00:08, 00:09, 00:10. Then she went to bed.  She couldn’t even recall if she had open a fancy bottle of wine.  “It’s much better this way.”

“Speaking of,” Tyler straightened himself and stood up. “It’s nearly midnight, and we’ve got fireworks to shoot off!” He looked down at her with a smile and started towards the door.  “Are you coming?” he pulled open the door and music filled the room.

“I’m right behind you,” She called after him looking at her watch; 23:56.  2017 huh? Chelsi thought to herself. 2007 feels like just the other week… But at 16 could I have really imagined myself here? She looked around the dimly lit room. The walls were concealed by floor to ceiling shelves of DVDs, VHSs, books and an assortment of other media materials.  Chelsi wasn’t even sure what color the walls actually were.  Nnn…, mmm well maybe…
She pulled herself up off the couch and walked into the common room. The house speakers, one stacked on top of the other, were bumpin’ the hottest beats from the club.  DJ Neal was squatting at the computer just beside them, finishing up the que for the next 30 songs.  Ireri and Sid, two volunteers from the newest intake were getting down on the dance floor together. Jason on the other hand was up on the dining table, twerking it with everything he had: “Neal! Neal!” he cried, “We need the Thong Song! Play the Thong Song!”

“No! Jtrain! We’re not playing the Thong Song.” Neal looked over his shoulder at him, “and you’re going to break the table if you keep doing that.”

“Alright everyone, if you want to see fireworks, come outside now!” Tyler screamed through doorway to the back porch. And with that, the music was tamed and the whole party filed outside.   

They stood on the steps of the porch watching intently the little cardboard boxes lined up in front of them in the grass.  “I know that one,” Sami whispered to Chelsi. “It’s the most dangerous one, because if they don’t fire at the same time then the whole thing will come shooting sideways across the ground and explode.” She voice crescendo-ed into glee, “and you don’t know where it’s going to go!”

“Please be careful Tyler!” Ireri called from the porch.

“Its fine,” and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, little boxes filled with colorful explosives were lit, and Tyler took a few steps back.  

 With a loud bang, the first rocket shot off and a white flash filled the air.  Another bang, and green and red stars were propelled through the night sky.  And, “Bump, bump, bump,”

“Jtrain!” Neal shouted, “No one wants to hear the Thong Song!”

Categories: Current Events, DIY, Science & Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

075: Crowning Achievement

“Hey, Warden Burger,” Neal’s voice called across the school yard.

Chelsi’s ears twitched at the designation.  It didn’t feel in poor taste given her general mood and the state of things, but is just sounds so unbecoming beside the fact that I’m running an environmental education camp for children.  “What?” she yelled back, feeling that mood of her flaring up.

“Good morning,” he replied cheekily.  She closed the distance between them, approaching the porch of the school block.  “Do we get two eggs today?” Neal asked, as Oliver Twist might have, but with all the sass of one in false hardship.

Minding the reality of their situation, her temper cooled and she played of his jest, “I have asked the cook to prepare a double ration of porridge for all, and two eggs today.”  Neal help dismount the large pot of oatmeal from her head and placed it on the stoop.  “I think Lauren and Ken are coming with the other pot and the eggs.”  Her head now free, Chelsi looked around the school yard.  At 7 am it was still earlier for her, but her Zambian campers, probably rose at 5:30, and now they were running about the school yard playing a pick-up game of hand ball.  They looked happy and content.  The remaining volunteers, and the more reserved children, were sitting on the stoop of the school block playing Euchre.  It wasn’t the best form for them to be sitting around playing cards, but it was the end of a long week, and they had earned some space.  “Alright, if I can have everybody’s attention for a moment.” She went to the stoop and sat down with the group.  “Ken and Lauren are being over the rest of breakfast. But first of all, happy final day of camp! You’ve all been working really hard and have dealt well with the few challenges we’ve had.”

“You mean like not having water?” Neal interjected.

“Like with the shortage of water filters; thank you Neal for putting a spigot on that bucket.  I just wanted announce some changes to the schedule today.  Marmar is going to go back into town today and bring Newton his things.” Newton, Maddy and Chaz’s counterpart who had suffered a seizure halfway through the week and had to be admitted to the hospital was going to be released that morning to the care of a nearby relative. “So I will be taking over her session on ecosystems this morning.  But I still need time to write it, so instead of going first hour, I’m going to go third.  So I need Adam and Amanda to do the Crafts with Trash session first, then if Neal can you do the fruit dryer.  My session should be done by then.  Then after lunch, Maddy and Chaz with do Climate Change and Mike and I will finish up camp sessions with Chongololo Club and how to be a leader.  How does that sound?”  There was a general nodding of heads that Chelsi took for understanding.  “Don’t forget to be drinking plenty of water, it’s going to be another hot day today. And if we can just power through everyone will be able to relax tomorrow.”

Ken and Lauren, having just arrived, and sat the remaining breakfast pots on the school block porch.  “Great thank you,” Chelsi said standing up.  “Also, there’s two eggs for everyone and two pots of oatmeal, so be free.”  Chelsi plucked a hard boil egg from the top of the pot and pealing it tossed it to Daisy.

“RED EKLANDS!” Lauren called out to the kids in the school yard to come be served breakfast.  “If you have a red name tag and you’re an ekland it’s time to get your food!”


Breakfast was served and eaten.  The campers came back for seconds and thirds until the porridge pots with scraped clean.  Neal liked teased her with talk of rations, seeing how the pots were scraped clean at every meal but Chelsi had been pleased so far with the way her food planning had turned out.  Nshima, the staple of ground maize, boiled until stiff, which must be had in a Zambian’s mind in order for food to be considered a meal, even if nothing else was offered, and many volunteers considered a large factor of malnutrition of children, had only been served once, the evening camp started.  As far as Chelsi knew, she had been the only one in history of Peace Corps Zambia to deny Zambians nshima for so long.  But everyone is better off for it.  The campers get some variety in their diet, the volunteers aren’t complaining of being bloated on nshima, and the counterparts get a lesson in adaptability.  Long in advance, Chelsi had made it clear, that if at any point people were unhappy with the food they could leave.  She heard only one comment and crushed it immediately.

After everything was cleaned up from the meal, at about 8 o’clock, and the first hour session commenced, Chelsi sat down on the ground of the school alcove and began to write her session.

Talking points, session topics and take-a-ways from the week bounced around Chelsi head.  Monday had been Water day, with sessions and games focusing on the water cycle, water quality and fisheries dynamics. Tuesday, Soil & Fire day, which help answer simple questions like ‘what is soil? What are village friendly solutions for improving soil fertility? And, how do fire affect soil and the landscape?  Air & Atmosphere day followed, when, after learning about oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other air and atmosphere molecules, the campers made terrarium biomes glass jars to help hammer home the point that, like in the jar, everything on earth is finite, contained inside the atmosphere.  Thursday was Plant & Animal day, where sessions touched on biodiversity and food webs.  And all of this culminated to today – Ecosystems and Climate change day.  But have they been putting it all together? Chelsi wondered.  She flipped to a clean page of flip chart paper, pulled a set of water colors from the crafts bag, set up a cup of water and began to paint.



“Hey Chelsi?” Adam approached her from behind.

“Yeah?” Chelsi glance briefly over her shoulder at him to let him know he had her attention.

“Neal is just finishing up with the fruit dying session, are you ready for your session? It’s next, right? Is there anything you need me to do?”

Chelsi glanced at her watch, ten minutes to 11, not bad. “yeah, I’m just about done.  Let the campers have a ten minute break to fill their water bottle if they need, and if you can make sure lunch is being finished up on time, that Ba Gladys has everything she needs.”

“Sure,” he turned to go and Chelsi finished up her last learning aid.  She had drawn up five microsystems, each on its own flip chart page, that when arranged together created the big picture of the ecosystem.  There was a stirring in the school yard of the camper stretching, filling their bottles and grumbling about the heat.  Just a few minutes, and we’ll be ready to start.


“Remember, during session, we; listen with our ears,” Chelsi wiggled her ears, “and watch with our eyes,” she fluttered her lashes, “and if we have something to say we…” she closed her lips and raised her hand.  The students quieted their chuckles and prepared their notebooks.

Chelsi began her lesson with a brief review of all they had talked about over the last week before venturing into the idea that an ecosystem is how water, soil, fire, air, plants and animals operate together.  She was pleased with how engaged many of the students were offer tidbit they had learned throughout the week.  After the opener, Chelsi asked the campers to get in their teams, and passed each of the five teams one of the pictures she had painted. “Now what I want you to do in your groups is answer these questions: In our picture, Where is the water? Where is it being stored how is it being used? What is the soil quality like? Describe its condition using evidence from the picture.  Where is the air? How do you know it’s there? What plants and animals to you see? How are they interacting? Is there human activity? How can you know? Is the activity good or bad for the environment? Why is this activity being done? What could have been done instead? When you’re finished you’re going to present you picture to the rest of the group.”

As the campers chatted in their groups Chelsi walk around listening like a dutiful teacher.  Generally, she liked teaching sessions, she liked commanding the attention of the room and coming up with activities, and teaching styles that help keep her students engaged.  But, because she’d been tending to the other duties of Camp director, or warden as Neal like to call her, she hadn’t much committed to teaching any sessions at the start, and then barely found the time to sit-in on the sessions of others for more than a few minutes. She was only teach ECO ECHO now, and a session on fire earlier in the week, because it had fallen into her lap.  Though the conditions under which this had happened weren’t great, she was happy to receive this session in particular.  She thought it would be the best measure to see what the campers had learned in the last week.  After all Environmental Education was the whole point of planning this year Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  If they hadn’t learned anything, all the stress, anxiety, and hard work to make it happen would have been for not. 

When the chatter had died down and it sounded like each group had come to a consensus on their pictures, Chelsi invited the groups up one by one to explain their pictures to the group.  The first group to go had a picture of some birds sitting in the tree tops.  They talked about water transevaporting through the trees, and wind blowing the leaves.  In the background they identified were trees had been cut and piled for conventional charcoal making. ‘Instead,’ the group identified, ‘they should be using the maize cob method we learned Tuesday and Wednesday.’  When the next group stood up, Chelsi pasted their picture just under the tree tops.  Here was a picture of the forest floor under the canopy.  On one side the group recognized that the earth was scorched by a bush fire.  ‘Likely one set by a hunter’ they added after identifying a prominent game rodent in the picture.  ‘Instead, the hunter should have brought a dog to help find the Fuko, because now the soil has been destroyed and young trees burnt.’  After they finished, the next group stood, pasting their picture of a small maize field in the forefront of the forest floor.  “The soil here is good” the group decided, because the maize had grown tall. They pointed out the small group of goats being managed in the field. “The goats here can be eating the farm waste and dropping manure on the field, but here they are still burning some of the compost, which is polluting the air and could have been tilled into the soil.”  Just in the corner of the picture of the maize field was a blue stream; which in the following picture connected to the rest of the stream.  This was the picture most different from the rest. It was a cross-section of the stream, featuring a few fish and frog, a couple aquatic plants and garden beds planted just on the banks. In the background and abandoned fishing net could be seen stretched from bank to bank.  “And the air in this picture?” Chelsi prompted after the group talked about the fishing gear, fish habitat and how stream banks shouldn’t be used for gardens. ‘Why, the air most be going in to the water.  Otherwise the fish wouldn’t be able to live.’  Excellent, how excellent, Chelsi thought.  The final picture portrayed the other side of the stream. A tall grass wetland was being cleared with fire.  The mice and snakes were racing towards some homes in the background, not having anywhere else to go.  The final group hit on every point in an appropriate way.

When the final group had finished the summery of their picture, refocused everyone’s attention and asked them all to take a step back.  “In front of us, we have a very familiar seen.  The bush, with birds and fuko, alongside our maize fields and animals, near streams for watering gardens, not too far from our homes, where we live.  After having looked at the pictures individually, we can easily see, now that they are fit together, aspects of an ecosystem, like the water cycle. And how a human’s decision to do something like light a bush fire affect can affect the whole picture.  Is everyone together with this?”  There was a vigorous nodding of heads.  “Because this afternoon Ba Maddy and Ba Chaz are going to talk about what happens when humans make too many decision that are bad for an ecosystem.” Chelsi glanced quickly at her watch; just after noon, right on time. “Thank you all for your attention.  I’m really, really pleased to say that I can tell you all have learned a lot this week.  It’s certainly made all the planning worth it” She added quietly to herself, turning to remove her learning aides. “There’s a half an hour of quiet time before lunch. So go enjoy!”


Camp TREE gang

Categories: Current Events, Nature, Teaching | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

073: Pokemon Go

“So are you going to come with us?” Chelsi’s friend Mike asked about this evenings activities. Chelsi was seated at the long table in the sitting room of the Provincial house.

“I really need to tally up the receipts for the grant and prepare tomorrows shopping lists for camp.”  Chelsi was in town for a few days, for the second time that month preparing for the youth environmental education camp, Camp TREE, that she would be hosting at her house in less than two weeks.

“Yeah, but you’ve worked hard today; you need to take a break,” Mike added patting her shoulder.  “I’ll help you with your receipts if you just wait till tomorrow.”

Chelsi sighed, “Where are you going again?”

“Neal and I are going to the airport.”

“Remind me why again…”

“BECAUSE it’s the only pokestop in Solwezi!” Mike was walking into the kitchen. “And I’m out of pokeballs! And I really want to hatch this egg.  I only have to walk like, four more kilometers.  So we’re going to walk to the airport from Kyawama.” He returned with a knife.

“Then we’re coming back?”

“Yeah, or whatever,” he said placing the knife on the table and bending down to pick up a small box.  “There’s that new restaurant, pub thing that just opened by New Shoprite.  Remember we saw that woman walk out today with a pizza box.  Maybe they have pizza there. We can go for dinner after the airport.” The box was plopped on the table with a clink.

Chelsi closed her eyes, rubbed her temples.  She was tired; tired from the dust and the heat of town, and tired from running around all day in it.  She was tired of diligently watching the bricks of cash that was her grant.  Just one stupid mix up and I’m done with. Any money missing that was not was not accounted for by a receipt, she was liable for, to be removed for the volunteer’s readjustment allowance, the waiver of understanding had said.  And she knew that the amount of her grant, though no more than a few thousand dollars, was two to three times as much as she would make in all her service.

Mike cut into the box with the knife, and peeling back the flaps revealed a cases of kijilijili; pint sized glass bottles containing cheap liquor of various sorts.  This particular box was full of Ginger Sky, a local specialty, which Chelsi had recently learned was available only in the northwestern part of the country.  The giddiness on Mike’s face was obvious, “can you believe, this whole box was only 80 kwacha?”

Chelsi reached in removing a bottle and studied the label.  “It’s really that good?” she wondered aloud.

“It’s really not bad the way it is, but we’re going to take a few bottles with us to the airport, and there’s a bar there we can get cold cokes from.”  Mike removed a few more bottles and fit them in to the pockets of his shorts.

“Are we going yet?” Neal asked, coming in to the room from the back porch.  “Are you coming Chelsi?” He wasn’t looking at her, but in the box of Ginger Sky.  “Do you have enough? Should we also bring the Castle in the fridge for the walk over there?”

“Yeah man, maybe three for each of us.  And three for Chelsi, she’s coming too.”

Neal started for the front porch, “Chelsi, what did I tell you? you need to be downloading Pokemon Go right now!, so you can play with us.

The absurdity of her friends made Chelsi smile, “Well, there’s no way there’s enough memory on my phone, but grab those Castle for me. I’ll come with.”

Categories: Adventure, Fantasy | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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

048: Fuko Feast


Fuko, A Giant African Mole

“Ba Joseph, Right?” Chelsi double checked with the new acquaintance standing in front of her.
“Yes.  You know when I first heard that you had come I thought, Ahh but this isn’t for me.  Especially fish farming.  But I think what is was, is that I just didn’t have the time.  Now I’m thinking I am ready.”
“That is absolutely fantastic!” This was the way Chelsi wished it happened more often.  The she is just out weeding her garden and people just walk up her path and say that they are ready to learn.  “We can get started right now. I didn’t have any plans this morning.”
The tall man’s face twisted up a bit.  “Or, you can come tomorrow.  But while you’re here you should at least come see the example pond.  It’s just there.” Chelsi pointed into the bush at his back. “I’ll show you.”
“Okay, but I think I’ll also come back with my notebook on Friday.” Chelsi was listening but started walking away.
“Friday’s fine.  Hold on I’m just going to get my shoes.”
When she returned and the two turned up the path, Daisy came running up to them, furiously investigating the new comer with her nose.  “I’m afraid of dogs.” What Zambian isn’t afraid of dogs?
“Well you’re doing great, cause I couldn’t tell. And you don’t have to worry about Daisy.  This is my dog.  She just excited, but she won’t hurt you.  She’ll come with us to the pond.”  It had been some weeks since Chelsi had been to visit the ponds, and the grass on the path to the trees was so over grown, standing six feet tall, she had to guide her student walking backwards through it.  Once they reached the tree line the grass subsided and they could walk comfortable side by side.  Daisy went running on up ahead.
They chatted a bit. Joseph explained how he stayed in town but had his farm just past her house. Chelsi told him about Peace Corps and the role of volunteers in the community.  When suddenly, Daisy came bounding out of the bush, a big fuzzy ball in her mouth.  She set it down on the path to better sniff at it.
“We eat that!” Joseph exclaimed pointing and running towards Daisy.  The animal twitching on the ground was a shape Chelsi couldn’t really describe; Fat and stout? More like a Zambian cucumber though, with fur. “Just wait.” Joseph stomped on the critters head till it quit moving.  Then Chelsi picked it up.  The body was still warm in her hand.
“It’s a giant mole,” Daisy jumped, futilely trying to reclaim her prize.  “Good girl Daisy,” Chelsi patted her on the head. 
“Yes, it is a mole.  In kiikaonde we call it Fuko.” The two continued on to see the fish pond

After making plans to meet again and Joseph left, Chelsi commenced with the business of preparing the meat.  She cut the hide from around the hindlegs and started to peel it from the layers of fat and meat.  I always knew all the practice butchering would pay off.  Between this and the poor dove from last month.  She knew most volunteers would have handed the catch off to their host family’s to prepare, settling for a bit or two of the finished dish.  There can’t be more than a handful of bit to this thing either, she thought as struggling the hide over the substantial head.  The meat was a dark red, and smells a bit like a swamp. There was still a lot of excitement in her for tasting it, but she didn’t have high hopes.
After the intestines where unpacked and the suspicious innards where divided up among her animals, she dropped the naked mole into a brine. She was expecting another volunteer, Craig, for dinner today, but that was still some hours away.  A brine is probably the best way to keep it.
When all was done and cleaned up, she hoped on her bike to meet up with a farmer for an afternoon gardening lesson.

By the time Chelsi and Daisy returned to the house their shadows were long under the sun, and Craig sat on the bench of her front porch. 
“Alright! You made it, I thought maybe you’d let yourself in.” Chelsi let her bicycle roll to a stop. 
“We just got here a few minutes ago.  Oh and when I go here, that white cat is yours?”
“Yeah, it’s annoying as hell though.”
“Well it was sitting on your bird house.” Chelsi’s heart sank and the commotion level sky rocketed when Daisy discovered the little ball of black fuzz Craig was cradling in his lap. 
“Oh, I’m going to kill the thing,” Chelsi shouted over the barking and hissing. “It’s been eyeing my birds all week.” She ditched her bike and walk around to the side of her house. She could tell something had disturbed the flock.  They all sat stark still on the roof of her house.  Seven, yes the whole flock.  She inspected a little closer under the bird house.  Delicate white eggshells speckled the ground. Chelsi walked back over to Craig.  “You’ve got to take him with you when you go.  I can’t have him here anymore.”  She grabbed her white cat, meowing, off the bench and the dog, barking and locked them in the house.
“Well, this little guy hasn’t shown any interest in birds.”  He held up a tiny black kitten. It looked at her frightened; blue eyes ringed in yellow. Poppy had prettier eyes.
“Thanks man.” She took the seat next to him.  “We’ve got a special dinner tonight.  Daisy caught a giant mole this morning.  I know how you like your meet chewy.”

After they had settled in and the animals had become acquainted with each other, Chelsi set Craig to chopping vegetable while she set up the stove.  “So apparently I did this wrong. Or not wrong, but non-traditional.”
“What do you mean?” Craig briefly looked up from his potatoes.
“Well, when I was talking to Kennie’s wife at our gardening lesson today I was telling her about it. And apparently, you’re supposed to prepare a fuko like a pig; where you sear the outside, scrape off the hair then butterfly it open and roast it.” And this made sense to Chelsi, there was a lot of fat between the skin and the meat. “I didn’t know, so I did what I’d do with any fuzzy animal and skinned it.  But I bet the skin will make a great puppet when it’s done!”  Always look for the bright side.
“I think I probably doesn’t matter that much,” Craig confessed.
“Yeah, and we can’t really roast anything anyway.” The stove hot, she plopped on pot of water. “So we’re just going to boil it.”

With a little cooking and fragrant herbs, the swampy smell disappeared. 
“This is delicious.” Craig said pulling the meat off one of the hind legs.
“I know! And it’s not even chewy.  Who would have guessed that dirt and roots, and whatever else moles eat, would make you so tender.”
The two ate to their satisfaction, then divided the remained among their animals.  Stomachs full they settle back in their chairs to enjoy each other’s company.  

Categories: Action, Adventure, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

047: Free the Birds

“Todays the day! Todays the day!” Chelsi excitedly rubbed Daisy’s face between her hands.  The air warm but the cement floor was cold on her feet.  She pulled back the curtains, and pushed open the rear window.  Leaning out the window, the way she did every morning. She could see her large bird house, brightly painted flowers showing and bits of grass thatch poking through the net covering.  A few of her birds were perched on the sticks holding together the house stand. After this morning she would no longer have to bring them plates of food twice a day, check their water every hour.  After five weeks I finally get to remove the net, and the birds will be free.
“Odi!” Menace’s deep voice boomed from the front of her house. 
“Naiya!” Quickly, Chelsi slipped on her skirt over her undershorts and rushed out the door to greet Menace.
“Juba jikatampe!” Chelsi exclaimed throwing her arms into the air.  Menace laughed.
“Thank you for coming to help.  My hope is the net comes off easier than it went on. Let me just grab the chair and stool from the house and I’ll meet you over there.” Chelsi ducked back into the house. 
She reappeared to find Menace had ignored her, probably for the best. She was struggling with the odd shape and size of the chair. “Here, can you take this?” she thrust it at him. “I’m going to grab the scissors too, cause we’ll probably need them to cut some of the ropes.”
Chelsi and Menace positioned the chair and stool so they were on either side of the house, then they started picking at the rubber ropes holding the containment net in place over the house.  “Elizabeth was telling me that you tried to bring some doves from your uncle’s house in town too. But that they flew away.” A few weeks before Menace had approached her asking for some nails to build his own small dove house. She obliged, after all he helped me paint and thatch mine.  Then built the stand its sitting on now.
“No, a dog ate two and the other two flew into the bush,” he corrected her. 
“Did you pull out their feathers so they couldn’t fly away?”
“No,” he said it with a chuckle. “But I didn’t know.”
“You should have told me you were bringing them and I could have help you.  If you don’t pull their feathers, or put a net around their for the first 21 days when they’re in a new home they’ll just try and fly back from where ever they came from.” She pause picking at a particularly difficult piece of rope. “Next time.  I’ll let you borrow my net if you want too.”
The more rope they stripped from the net the more violently the butterflies in her stomach started to flutter.  This is really the moment of truth.  For so many weeks and months she envisioned what it would look like; to be in her garden weeding and look up and see her brightly painted house, covered in colorful dove, glistening in the sunlight.  Momentarily she forgot the dangers of looking up while standing underneath a bird perch.  The morning gloom had not burned off yet.  There would be no glistening till this afternoon.  So long as all my birds don’t immediately fly away.
The big grey cock cooed from the door of his box. His mate pushed past him to see better what all the commotion was about.  I wonder if that pair can even remember how to fly, Chelsi wondered.  They were some of the first additions to the house. And though she was quiet certain that their flight feather had fully regrown, she wondered about muscle atrophy. 
“Alright, do you want to hand me the big piece of bamboo?  And grab that one for yourself.  I’m going to stand on the chair, so if you get on the stool… Yeah just like that. I think it might work that we just push the net up over and off the house.”
I want them to fly! I want to see the wind in their wings! Menace and Chelsi worked together to clear the first half of the house from the net. Just not too far for too long.  All seven of her birds were huddled up on a perch in the far corner, fearing that this change in their daily routine might be the mark of their end. 
“Perfect!” And just as the net cleared the last half of the house one of her birds lunged forward and took off.  It flew straight back into the bush.  Chelsi’s stomach dropped a little bit.  When the whole net hit the ground the flighty birds mate took off after it.  She looked across the house at Menace.  “I would have felt a little better if they all had taken off…” They looked up at the five remaining doves, perched stone still.  Oh my gosh, maybe they have been lock in the house to long and I broke them! She let out some of her unforeseen anxieties on Menace.  “I hope the other ones come back.”
“They will, look!” The two birds, side by side, swooped down over the house then lifted back up to circle the compound before landing in the tall branches of the tree beside her house.  Chelsi smiled and tried to calm the butterflies still fluttering away in her stomach. 
The pair of doves stayed perched in the tree for quite a while, preening their feathers and stretching their wings.  As Chelsi and Menace cleaned up the bits of string the remaining doves started to loosen up a bit too.  When the cleaning was down they sat on log beside the garden and watched the birds in the house, until the sun came out and glistened on their feathers. 

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

044: PCVL

Chelsi stared at the Shoprite shelf in the open refrigerator.  “All I really want to eat is cheese,” she thought aloud.  But there was none that she could afford.  30 kwatcha for an ounce of cheddar … No. 24 kwatcha for ten individually wrapped slices … Double no.  She wandered away from the refrigerator section. Maybe they’ll have the big bags of fake Cheetos, she thought. 
It was pushing close to 5pm, she had left her house at noon.  When she offered to take the position as Acting Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for the rest of the week she had double checked that it was alright that she arrive later in the afternoon, but she never anticipated it taking her five hours to get to town.   Her feet dragged through the crowded isles, the extra mass from her backpack not doing her any favors. 
“Chelsi! Chelsi!” She took her eyes briefly off the shelf of snacks. “There you are.” It was Chad. Close in tow was Mike and Aubrey. A whole Mufumbwe gang.  Chelsi spirit picked up a bit.
“Hey, guys,” but her mind was still focused on cheese flavored snacks.  Chad and Mike pushed their way through the crowd towards her.  Aubrey continued perusing the shelf of cookies. 
“We’ve been trying to call you all day,” the urgency in his voice was settling in to relief. 
“Yeah, my phone only works when it’s plugged in. Sorry.” She paused to think, hopefully the status of her phone: broken, would not conflict with her official duties of minding the volunteers. “Why did something happen?”
“Well, it’s just that Ephriam left yesterday morning and we were expecting you then. We thought maybe something happened to you.”
Chelsi sighed and shook her head, “I swear the posting for the opening was from the 25th to the 27th, and I told Ephriam I wouldn’t be coming in till this afternoon. He said it was fine. Sorry you all were left to worry.”  Go figure. “He didn’t leave any instructions, you know about house schedule, generator rules, house goods, duty phone, did he?”
“No he just left,” Chad’s relief was now calm.  He clutched a Shoprite basket in one hand and played with his beard with the other. 
“Great, cause he didn’t tell me anything.” Chelsi shrugged, too tired to care, there’s always plausible deniability if something happens.
“We’re going to make a Greek pizza, with olives, and tomatoes, and some reasonably priced feta, if you want in.” Mike chimed in sensing the weariness in her response.
“That would be great. Cause I was just going to eat cookies and NikNaks. Who else is at the house?”
“No one, it’s just the three of us.”
“I’m still going to eat this bag of NikNaks.”
“Even me,” Chad chuckled grab a bag off the self for himself. 

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

035: Living as an example

Mwabuuka!” one of the men out of a group shouted at Chelsi as they pasted by her house on the road. 
“Give me New Years!” she now could hardly see them as they disappeared behind some dense vegetation.
“Give me New Years!” Why not? She thought. If they had the audacity to ask her for things, why shouldn’t she expect they would be given in return?
Chelsi could hear them laughing at her response, but that was it.  She decided she was not going to letting constant asking for things bother her.  And to help cool her mood, she decided that in this coming year she would focus on the projects that made her happy.  She would not be chasing people down to get them to come to programs, she wouldn’t organize lessons through a third person, or agree to teach about topics that she found impractical for the village.
But you must teach us how to make cake,’ one of the women in her village had insisted when she first moved to the village.  And at first Chelsi had been excited to share knowledge about whatever was desired. Then she thought about it: So they’re going to use their limited income to buy a 30kw bag of flour, 22kw bag of sugar, a 40kw block of butter, eggs, milk and vanilla. Then run a 66% chance of burning the thing by trying to cook it over a fire. Mmmm, no. She would still consider doing a demonstration, but after months of pleading to get help roofing her chinzanza so they could build a proper oven to bake in, the chances of that demo ever happening were looking bleak. 
She was going to work in her garden, keep her pigeons, improve her house.  If people became interested in learning about the things she was already working on great. And if not well… After all, there is no one in the village that wouldn’t benefit from having a kitchen garden. 
Living as an example, that is one of the purpose of Peace Corps volunteers.  Living demonstrations of food security and conscious healthy habits.  Plus people naturally start copy the actions volunteers. Before Chelsi had Daisy there were two dogs in the village; now nearly everyone had one. 
On this New Year’s Eve, Chelsi reflected on her first eight months, and all the time and energy she spent cycling around, trying to visit two, three farmers, families, schools, in a day.   And thus far not much change. If gardening lessons were working she won’t have people asking her for food. If sensitization about malaria prevention was working, people won’t be constantly telling her they were sick with malaria.  So instead she was determined that over the next year she would save that energy and focus it on living as an example.  Maybe if instead of just telling people they should make gardens and how to do it, if they saw the success of mine they would be more interested in learning to build their own. Or instead of telling them how they should use and care for their mosquito nets if they saw me washing mine on a regular schedule they would be more likely to care for theirs.  

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

014: Community Entry Report

It happen, it really happen, Chelsi thought to herself sitting with her computer in her lap, on a reclining chair on the front porch of the Prov house.  She had just finished her first three months as a volunteer and completed the process Peace Corps referred to as Community Entry, a three month period in which new volunteers are forbidden from taking vacation, attending workshops and visiting the Prov house. A period most volunteer report experiencing as the worst, remembering as the best and weeds out those that cut out for the volunteer life.  Now that it was over Chelsi was feeling freer, more like an actual volunteer.  Today had been her first full day using the house, a simple one story house made up of 15 beds where volunteers could come up to four days a month to complete work requiring computers but also socialize with other volunteers and keep their moral going, a retreat from village life.  Relaxing in the shade she thought about her first three months.  It hadn’t felt terrible as other volunteers reported theirs being.  Sure there where events, happenings, times that really left me rattled but nothing that really made me feel like I should quit.  She felt like her biggest challenge was feeling she would get when people would come and ask for her things.   It was mostly her host family, they would ask consumptive things, like food or candles, it was easiest to tell them ‘No, I’m here for the whole community, I can’t give food to the whole community, I can’t give food to you.’ But when they asked for non-consumptive things like her hammer, it was harder to say no, after all it would be returned she thought.  And if I want them to do favors for me like feed my dog when I’m gone, perhaps I should do some favors for them.  But after other members of the community started telling her that she should not be lending out her things that she should be telling them to buy their own and other volunteers repeatedly warned her about being taken advantage of by her host family she started to feel the discomfort of the pull between saying yes and saying no.
Hold on,’ Chelsi called from her bed where she was reading.  When she came through the door way, being sure to duck because her roof had yet to be lifted, she saw her 30 year old host brother standing on her porch. ‘Is there something I can do for you?’
‘I am asking for your hammer.’ The pit of Chelsi’s stomach dropped, this was the eighth time in two weeks, and her generosity was starting to wear thin.
‘If you need a hammer so much, why don’t you just go buy one?’ the subject triggered tone of her voice to strain, stretching under her rising level of aggravation. 
‘I don’t have money.’
‘I know that isn’t true, you just built yourself a new house, iron sheets and all. You had money for that you could have bought a hammer.’ She was practically yelling at him now.  His face had change from carefree to blank, almost scared looking.  Embarrassment and contrition started to seep in under aggravation and anxiety. ‘I just don’t understand, you hired someone to lay the bricks for you, then tell me you don’t have money. It doesn’t make any sense.’ She was trying to force some calmness into her voice.  Her host brother remain speechless. ‘I’ll let you borrow it,’ she was cracking down, ‘I just don’t understand, you should have bought a hammer when you had the money.’ She stepped back into the house and grabbed the hammer and a spent mouse trap.  She thrust them at him.  ‘Bring it back when you’re done.’ He walked off without saying anything, she was left feeling sour and nauseous from the mix of emotions.  What’s he going to do when he’s not living next a volunteer, she wished she had told him. 
The position of Peace Corps volunteer is a mix of work and lifestyle, a perfect balance Chelsi was still working to perfect.  All in all she genuinely enjoyed her job and adjust to the conditions pretty easily, but she was glad to finally be taking a break from the constant person to person contact and scrutiny that was life living in the village.  This first day at the Prov house was the beginning of a month long absence from her village that would be filled with 10 of In-Service Training or IST, in the capital Lusaka than another 10 days of vacation in Malawi, plus a few travel days.  Before arriving in the Lusaka, she was asked by her Peace Corps supervisor to reflect and write up a short report about Fish Farming and other activities in her village so Peace Corps could monitor changes in communities over time.  It was what she was working on, sitting out on the porch, thinking about the last three months and over the course of an hour came up with this:
I’m stationed in Kamijiji, in the greater Sandan’gombe area.  The largest villages are Sandan’gombe and Mitukutuku which numerous other smaller villages scattered about.  There are clinics and primary schools in Mitukutuku and Sandan’ombe with a community school, grades 1-5 in Kamijiji.  There is an estimated 4,000 people in the area.  Main sources of income for the villagers include growing maize and sweet potato but I would say making charcoal is many families primary source.  Few villagers raise other animals, sheep and broiler chicken for sale, but village chickens and goats are common.  I have seen about 18 fish ponds in the area but only nine are really being managed for production.  I can attribute poor management among many to a loss of interest but others have also sighted lack of resources in the form of feed to being a barrier to production. Under sized fish, fish that not growing to “plate” size have discouraged many farmer. Availability of high quality fingerlings is part of the problem.  Right now one farmer is digging two new ponds to join two existing ponds in the hopes of setting up a fingerling production of the four most common fish being farmed in Zambia, Three-spotted bream, green headed breams, red breasted breams and Nile bream.  We are looking for brood stock for green headed and red breasted.  A separate co-op in the area has also recently applied for a grant to started producing fish feed and I have been working with them to create as sustainable business plan with locally sourced inputs and solar power machines to increase income generation of the area at large.  There has been a lot of expressed interest in digging ponds by more than a dozen villagers who are new to fish farming but so far only one farmer has started digging and he should be ready to stock in September.  There is a mixed wetland just east of the villages, which would lend itself as a great area for fish farming.; ground water fed, and spring fed resulting in small streams of runoff that keep the area wetted all year round.
I have been approached about interest in other program areas as well including that of gardening.  Currently kitchen gardens are spares, and very few people garden as a source of income.  Because of the water availability in the wetland the possibility of integrating gardening with fish farming is great, where soil type will allow for gardens.  I have taught in two schools, Mitukutuku and Kimikolwe about composting and plan to expanding a gardening program to interested villagers. Each school services about 600 plus students.    The second greatest interest is in the raising of broiler chickens, for sale in Solwezi followed by the keeping of rabbits.  Two groups have gotten together and expressed interest in learning to produce baked goods for income generation and I think I will be teaming up with another volunteer to produce a baking programs using ingredients easily acquired in the village.  There have been a smaller number of villagers interested in fruit tree and fruit production.  Interest among villagers in Peace Corps programs have to do with income generation for products to be sold in Solwezi.  My catchment area is located a mere 10 kilometers from town. 
The in Mitukutuku would be a good place for HIV/AIDs intervention programs and the clinic, staffed three people plus one community health worker, runs a pretty good extension in to the other villages which would also be provide good extension for HIV and nutrition intervention. 
Because of the proximity to town the area has been developing/growing “quickly” with people from across the country.  All of the villagers I have encountered are some denomination of christan with people attending service about twice a week and chorus groups meeting nearly every evening.  The predominate pass time, especially among men, is drinking. Villagers aquire their drinking water from a variety of sources including borehole, cemented wells and springs, based on their proximity of each source. 
The village I am stationed in, Kamijiji, is poorly organized, while the areas of Mitukutuku and Sandan’gombe have a few well respected community organizers and active headman, making these areas much easier to work in that my “home base.” There is no village market with all products to be sold being transported, mainly by bike or canter, to Solwezi.  Biking to town takes about two hours depending on the route and there are one bush road, referred to as the short cut, that cyclist and canters use to transport people and products, mostly charcoal, to town.  The bike to the tarmac is about 45 minutes from my site. The stretch of road between the shortcut turn off and the tarmac is mostly by the few people that live on that stretch of road and large gravel trucks from a quarry that is on that stretch. There is one lodge, Wamami Lodge which is frequented mostly be professional types from town and offers the only restaurant and grid powered electricity in the area. 

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

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