Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last year

One year ago we had just spent the holidays telling everyone we knew
that we had been nominated to join peace corps in eastern europe in
spring. We didn't know what country but we were betting albania.

New year's eve we ran into an old friend who told us peace corps told
him south america but after he moved out of his house and sold his car
they said it was pushed back six months and changed to africa.

About a week later pc called us and said can you leave for africa six
weeks from today?

Twenty hours of freaking out later i had quit my job and started packing.

Happy 2009 everyone! We'd love to see you all in oh nine, so start
pricing those plane tickets. Lusaka is cheaper but lilongwe is closer.
Either way you're welcome.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Thanks to peace corps, I think i have found my true calling. I have
spent the last ten days organizing every room of the pc house in
chipata. Today i threw away three bins of scratched up old cds and
single socks. Also cleaned out both fridges. Yesterday it was moldy
board games. Before that, expired pills and empty shampoo bottles.
Ratty clothes.

Strangely i love throwing stuff away. Hard to believe for anyone who
has seen my collections, i'm sure, but i am a pro here. Ready to take
it to the next level. Not much call for junk cleaning in zambia
outside the pc community but i bet in america i could make a living at

Monday, December 29, 2008


Thanks to nori from grace and miso from Gennie, i made Sushi tonight.
Inspired by my old korean language partner eun jung, who makes Sushi
like i make chili (throw in everything that will fit), i invented the
zambia roll. Canned tuna, Avocado, mango. I thought it was pretty good
but then i don't like Sushi all that much. I prefer a good egg roll.
On that front, mohammed who runs the pizza joint says he will work up
a sample for me. He brought veggie samosas by on christmas so i have
faith in his fryer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


In many ways this is Trevor's and my ideal holiday. Reading, eating,
movies, crafts, beer. Trevor is working on one hundred years of
solitude but should read love in the time of cholera since we hear
There's an outbreak in lilongwe, just across the border. If anybody
reading this sees my mom DON'T MENTION CHOLERA.

I'm crocheting a cozy for my nalgene bottle since they tend to sweat.
There is quiche in our bellies and fresh mango salsa in our future.
Plus Trevor just cracked open a giant bar of dark chocolate.

Almost heaven, eastern Zambia.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I am thankful today that the sun is out so I could wash my smelly
clothes and not have them molder on the line. Unfortunately this also
means that walking through the market results in a burnt scalp since I
forgot my hat.

Trevor hitched down to Katete this morning with a friend to attend a
wedding. Me, I'm trolling the salaula (thrift piles), a terrible
weakness, but I did find a great "Hawaii" shirt.

We are having a lovely holiday lately. Eggplant parmesan and brownies
for dinner and a Natalie Goldberg-inspired writing workshop. No drunk
people causing a ruckus. I can't imagine anything better.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Play ball

I was trying to teach the new house dog to play fetch. It went ok for
a few throws and he was even bringing them back. But then i threw a
wild one that went over the wall between our house and next door. I
heard the ball splash into the mostly empty swimming pool. Luckily our
house keeper is friends with theirs. There's a ladder against the wall
so they can climb up and chat. Esther called over and the ball came

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Let's face it. Holidays are all about the food. We've been lucky that
the power has stayed on consistently. Allegedly this is because the
president is visiting his farm nearby. We took advantage by making a
huge christmas lunch. Burritos, soy, salsa, guacamole. Luckily
avocados are in season and cilantro grows in the back yard. Also i
made baked apples using martha stewart's recipe and mexican chocolate
kerrie sent months ago. Now we are sitting around watching christmas
movies and crocheting. Seriously, i've taught everybody here. Cool,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Merry Christmas everybody!

Honestly, it doesn't feel like Christmas to me, at all, mostly because
it's still so blazing hot and humid and there is no sign of it
anywhere, except the occasional guy wearing a Santa hat. But a few
excellent people are at the house now, and we've been watching
Christmas movies and listening to Bing Crosby, and Meg has been baking
Christmas cookies. We're trying to get in the mood.

I am doing some last-minute shopping today. I bought Trevor a
Christmas t-shirt that I found randomly at the thrift store. That's a
bizarre concept, huh? A thrift in Zambia. It's called DAPP, and it's
an NGO that sells clothes from bales that get shipped in from Europe.
The stuff is fantastic-- I bought some linen pillow slips for 3,000
kwacha each-- that's less than a buck. We will fill each other's
stockings (uh, socks) tonight, and tomorrow we'll probably drink a
little too much as we pine for home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


In the afternoon i walked with my friend patricia down to the craft
center run by the catholic church. It was the first time i have
managed to be free when they are open. They teach pottery, wood
working, sewing and weaving. Be still my heart. I'm going back today
to meet the nun in charge.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cape Town

We're thinking about taking a vacation to Cape Town in April. Does
anybody out there know anybody in Cape Town? Someone wtih a spare
bedroom, or perhaps someone who is going on vacation and needs a house
sitter? I'm good at dog walking.


We thought we had a ride lined up on a truck delivering fruit trees on
behalf of an NGO, but they got re-routed at the last minute so we went
to plan B, riding our bikes to Chipata. Usually the 65-km trip takes
about five hours, but thanks to rain, wind, and sandy mud, this time
we took a record-long six and a half hours.

Midway through a winding shortcut, there's a bridge about ten feet
above a creek where kids bring their cattle. Usually the bridge is
logs with mud packed between them so it seems solid. But the rains
have washed away the mud, so it's just three slick, mossy logs. Right
when we pulled up, a guy rode up from the other way with an old dude
sitting on his rack. He carried the bike across and the old guy inched
over the bridge. Then the young guy picked up my bike-- overloaded
panniers and all-- and carried it across for me. After two precarious
steps, I crab-walked across on my hands and feet. Then the guy came
back across for Trevor's bike.

For the first five hours, we saw a grand total of two cars. Only one
was going our way, but unfortunately it was a taxi so loaded down the
bumper was barely off the ground. I was wishing a big truck would
drive by and stop so we could throw in our bikes and ride. Alas, I got
the character building experience instead.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday spirit

Chadizians are getting into the holiday spirit. Where I sit in the
resource center, I can hear music drifting over from the market.
"Jingle Bell Rock" has come up several times now.

I decorated the house yesterday, meaning I draped a skein of silver
tinsel (brought back from the USA-- thank god they had already put
Christmas decorations out in October) over the doorway. It looks

We even got two packages that I insist on calling Christmas parcels
even though one contained leftover Halloween candy (but what happened
to all those Three Muskateers bars, mom???) and the other was kid
books, stickers and gossip magazines (be still my heart). I'm guessing
any "real" Christmas parcels will arrive around March.

In non-holiday news, Trevor says he is feeling like Johnny Zamseed as
he has just given away the last of the 400 conservation trees he
sprouted. Mr. Mbewe is digging a hole for a moringa in the back yard
as I write.

Tomatoes are becoming scarce and expensive in the market, but I did
manage to buy two unusual vegetables-- a pile of okra and three green
peppers-- so we won't have to live on only onions and critter-chomped
cabbage. Next weekend when we return to Chipata, we will further
cultivate the holiday spirit by making peanut brittle! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Everybody else wore their matching shirts for a group photo but we
whiteys didn't get the message. So at lunch a colleague drove us home
to change. Like many Zambians she is a country music fan so we rocked
out to dolly partoo.


We expected 372 students to this week's training. The number is
already over four hundred and climbing.

One organizer speculates that word got out we give softies aka sodas
and lunch, so people showed up to get in on the shima. This is the
hungry season. We are just beginning to see fresh corn. But most
people especially in villages don't have much to eat.

Just last night the whiteys were talking about office break rooms this
time of year, how people dump excess baked goods to get them out of
the house. I'm glad people here don't know about that. And i wish jill
could send me her grandma's fudge.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


In america i have had to fend off people trying to give me tshirts i
don't want. Those shirts end up in africa, where people who appreciate
irony get a cheap thrill when an especially goofy one walks by.

I got my first free zambia shirt yesterday. The workshop handed polos
out to us facilitators. They are the color of ikea furniture and
printed with olde english type. With all the teachers dressed alike it
looks like an overstaffed big box store or church camp.

Monday, December 8, 2008


We spent Friday afternoon handing out certificates to 350 head
teachers. Saturday they started home. Yesterday we got word that the
minibus to petauke flipped, killing seven teachers and sending
another eight to hospital in bad shape.

Today we launched the next phase of the workshop, with 350 more
teachers. The mood is somber as you can imagine. There are more women
students this time, so lots more babies. One wailed in the courtyard
through my first session. I'm glad somebody cried. The rest of us are

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Many of the teachers at this week's training have never met a real
live white person before. My first clue was when people we don't know
lined up to get their picture snapped with us.

Then at lunch, someone asked if two of my pc colleagues are brother
and sister. They do both have very short hair. But caitlin is an irish
redhead and nearly six feet tall. Koh, her supposed twin, is small,
athletic and japanese american.

You would think that as much as people stare at us they would pick out
a few subtle differences.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


If you're reading this, we haven't written back because we can't
access your address from the phone and computer email is not possible
at the moment. Can you email us your email address? Ok thanks.


This week's workshop reminds me of teaching college. I always enjoyed
coming up with wacky things for my students to do. However until today
i never compelled an adult to act like a rampaging goat. Along with
bursting into song and dance, Zambians love to act out dramas. It
keeps surprising me how goofy they can be under the suits and dresses
and british accents.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


As an agro forestry volunteer Trevor is keen on tree planting and
trying to re green this tragically deforested country. He won't let us
cook with charcoal. He babies his seedlings.

So it is both painful and ironic for me to sit in a usa funded
workshop where the main activity is producing reams of flip chart
posters destined to be thrown out or burned tomorrow. The walls are
plastered with them. And they are pasted atop perfectly good chalk
boards and white boards.

Also my fellow presenter just started and ended a sentence with to. I
sat and clenched my marker. I only correct grammar if i can sneak up
on the sly. Thank god i have knitting to keep my hands busy.


Zambians amaze me. Yesterday a guy showed up to return an umbrella
someone left in his car. A while back a guy followed me up a giant
hill to return a coke bottle i had filled with water and dropped from
my bike rack.

One of the teachers in our workshop brought her two daughters. The
five year old is watching the baby just outside the classroom. When
the baby is asleep the big girl plays jacks with a pile of rocks.

My fellow pcvs helped me comb the house for toys last night. The girl
got a car this morning. After break i will hand over crayons. Tomorrow
a jump rope. Thank goodness for the random crap people send us!

Monday, December 1, 2008

To clarify

When i said Trevor went home, i meant Chadiza not america. This causes
confusion with us here often.

It's world aids day. Africa has suffered from this disease greatly and
today we recommit ourselves to the fight to end it. I am also
remembering friends from home who lost the fight. Here and there, the

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Home sweet village

Trevor leaves tomorrow for home while i stay two more weeks in the big
city training teachers.

He is excited to get back to where no running water or electricity
feels like camping rather than squalor.

Yesterday the power was out all day so at dinner time the housekeeper
here at the guest house lit us a brazier of charcoal. I sat with her
under the insaka out back and boiled pasta while she cooked beans. She
declared the noodles delicious and insisted on washing our dishes,
depriving Trevor of his usual chore. I have a feeling he will get even
more spoiled this week in the village as our host family fusses over
him. They don't approve of the way i let him help with woman work. He
may spend the week behind an ox cart instead.

No thanks

We are back to being our usual ungrateful selves today as we suffer
through an entire day with no water in town and our guest house blares
bad congolese pop music, though it recently switched to abba which
believe it or not is an improvement.

I passed the 50000 word mark for nov yesterday but won't be able to
officially finish on the Nanowrimo site as the web is not cooperating
in zambia lately.

Wah. Well, At least the power has been on all day.

By the way i haven't tried the caterpillers yet. They are sold raw and
seem like something that would be easier to stomach if cooked well and
by somebody else so i can forget what i'm eating.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Today i'm thankful that the power AND Water stayed on all day so we
were able to eat stuffing and pumpkin pie. And to wash up after.

I'm thankful that i happened to be sitting by the phone when my parents called.

I'm also very thankful that the holiday provided us a legit excuse to
miss an afternoon of semi painful presentations at the education

and that somebody left a fairly recent people magazine at the house
for me to read while i lounge like a beached turkey.

Happy thanksgiving

I hope everybody out there has a good turkey day. We are spending the
morning in our workshop but then will head to the house where folks
are already busy baking turkeys and pies. We look forward to eating
ourselves into a coma.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The rain again

I was just packing up to sneak out of the workshop for an extended
lunch break when rain started pouring down. The rainy season is here.
You can't hide from it. So i hiked up my jeans and grabbed my broken
umbrella. I am enjoying the veggie burger even more knowing i have
time for ice cream after.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The eastern province education volunteers have come in early to help
out with a workshop. They told us to dress down for full participation
so i'm wearing jeans but the ladies are dressed in their finest
zambiao tailored bridesmaid dresses. Still they jump right in singing
when the trainers start in. Zambians are always willing to act silly
together which is funny considering how stiff and polite they usually
are. We are learning from each other.

Monday, November 24, 2008


After my run this morning, i got the housekeeper at our guesthouse to
bring me bath water.

Anywhere else, i would expect paid lodging to come with hot running
water, clean towels, and a basket of little shampoos. In america a
have spent days in the tub. Here, i'm thrilled that i didn't have to
carry the water down the hill. And it was hot! What luxury.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


We are in the big city to celebrate thanksgiving with the other people
who consider it a holiday. And a big peace corps meeting.

Since we were here last, the ice cream place opened, and it sells
pizza. As if this was not enough, it is caterpillar season. They are
offered all over the market, sold by the cup full. They look like big
dried beans. With legs.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Small victories

Trevor is feeling good about some small successes this week. His tree
seedlings are growing strong. The council has picked up on his
proposal to buy trash cans, and public toilets may be next. And he
looks forward to planting his field of cow peas and peanuts.

Plus tomorrow we head to the big city for a week of meetings and
thanksgiving with friends. For the moment It's blessedly cloudy. Life
is good today.


I am getting used to people staring at me all the time. But what
continues to freak me out is the way guys on bikes give me the dead
eye look while unconsciously veering towards me. They correct at the
last moment which is dicey on gravel.

It's my mom's birthday today! If you see her give her a hug from me willya?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Number crunch

Among the many items we brought back from our trip: bike odometers and
an outdoor thermometer. Now i know exactly how slow i am on my bike
and exactly how blazing hot it is. More than a hundred degrees just
about every afternoon. Not sure either piece of technology is
enhancing my life right now.

I ran into a guy from the education office who told me it will be this
hot until march. Lord help us. His name translates as small meat.
Sometimes zambia makes it hard to be mature. Like when Art told us the
word for monkey. It's pronounced poo-say.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

More wildlife

Sightings this week include a tiny green snake in the outhouse, the
banana sized slugs that have come out since the rain started, a giant
monkey up by the water hole, and the lady who tried to steal my shoes.

There was no power in town for a few days so our phones died. Also i
have been slogging on the word challenge. Up past thirty thousand
words but i'm way behind on letters and email. So hello and sorry if
anyone feels neglected. I'll write in dec but Trevor is keeping up so
you may hear from him first. Unless you are a reader who we don't
actually know in which case you should leave a comment and say hi
because i am fascinated that anyone beyond my patient and kindhearted
friends reads this. My mom doesn't even read it! So thanks..

I am procrastinating typing up today's words. I bet you figured that
out already. Ok bye.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wildlife report

Today we saw a giant monkey up at the spring and Trevor identified the
tiffany blue bird We've been admiring as a blue waxbill.

A stranger came to our door wanting food and water which i gave. When
She tried to walk away wearing my shoes i called for help. Our host
mom said she's a crazy lady who lives down the road.

We had been wondering what help is available to the mentally ill here.
Apparently the answer is none.

Monday, November 17, 2008


People were asking me what moms here use for diapers. I didn't know
until this weekend when we spent the day with bensons family. He of
the wife and the monkey chasing wife.

They use old chitenges, then a layer of plastic pants. It's about as
absorbant as the huggies thong, as Trevor discovered when he held
benson junior for five minutes and wound up with a wet lap.

The baby also had a string of beads around his waist. Some type of
protection i suspect.

Send good thoughts Trevor's way, will you? He is having a rough time
lately. Not just the wet lap.

Friday, November 14, 2008


As of today we are 33 1/3 finished with our peace corps service. In
america we would mark the occasion by spinning some vinyl and sipping
a frosty one. Here those are not options so we are at a loss about how
to properly celebrate.

Any ideas?

Mango season

It is again too hot to sleep. I got through the night only with the
help of damp hankies draped across my body. I don't think Trevor slept
much at all.

I think god is trying to make it up to us with mangos.


I sat in on a meeting of the women's cooperative yesterday. It was
held under a tree by the clinic. There were more than thirty women and
nobody wore the same chitenge. I caught some words like chicken and
seeds and cook but the drama came when everybody had to sign the
ledger. Most signed by way of a thumbprint made by scribbling on their
finger with a pen. While they waited some ladies practiced writing
their signature in the dirt. The secretary had to coach most of them
through their names letter by letter.


At the market i finally bought the lavender linen flax brand skirt i
have eyed for months. The salaula lady wanted twenty pin the first
time i asked but it had migrated from a rack inside to the pile
outside where she lays and watches people buy vegetables. I figured
its price fell with its status. Wed she only wanted five pin. I bought
it and will turn it into a sun dress to help me endure this brutal

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mango season

Mango season is here. I just bought four ripe ones in the market for
500 kwacha. Fifteen cents. I'm still watching the trees by our house
where the mangos are still green.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Anybody else out there tackling the monster? I figured i would never
have a better shot at finishing it than this year. Up to 17000 so far.
It's not a novel but It's something.


We spent the morning in the garden. Trevor finally earned that badge
for hauling manure on his bike. We planted lettuce, spinach, beans,
basil, watermelon. I have a bunch of seedlings started by colleen's
baggie method awaiting transfer to peat pots.

We will go to chipata in a few weeks to celebrate thanksgiving with
our fellow white people. It is funny to be celebrating the harvest
since folks here are slowly going hungry as they await the first
plants. We see kids gnawing on green mangoes.

At least we have reliable water again. The first rains have recharged
the springs a bit.

Monday, November 10, 2008


We met with the patron of the fledgling media club at the high school.
We are all excited about this project and realizing that one challenge
will be teaching the students about what media is. They have never
used a computer or read a daily newspaper or watched tv news.

We hope to share examples of good media with them. If you are a nerd
with high speed internet would you consider burning a cd of npr
podcasts for us? You will find a link on their home page.

I am thinking of weekend edition especially but we would also enjoy
studio 360 and world cafe for our free time. God i miss public radio.

It's probably not necessary to be a nerd but i think it helps..

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Small world

Further evidence. I was riding to town yesterday when stopped by a
lady on a motorcycle. Do you know josh in nimba? She asked. Nimba is
probably six hours from here. Yes i know him. She said he sends his
greetings, and rode off.

Maybe what this illustrates best is how few white people there are
here and how not anonymous we are.

Speaking of being white a friend asked me if they will rename the
white house now that black folks are moving in. She thought it was
called that because only whites are allowed.

I am starting to get why they are so shocked and thrilled about Obama.
It challenges what they thought they knew about americans.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We returned to the village yesterday and after dinner our friend
stopped by for the Obama stuff i brought him. He slapped the bumper
sticker on his bus before driving off to change into the shirt and
watch election returns.

We got two texts before we had gotten out of bed. We are all very
excited here.

Not so thrilling is the heat. Io bed last night i had pools of sweat.
Actual drops. I am more of a glisten person in general. But this is
professional level heat. When we hang up the new thermometer we will
know just how bad.

Trevor says instead of doubling peace corps, Obama should get us air
conditioning. I would take a fan even.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Zingalume School

Note the girls sweeping the yard with brooms made of twigs. Yep, that's a classroom.

Hot holidays

One surreal thing about being back in Africa is that we left Missouri in fall weather, cold and rainy. Here, it's hot and windy. The grocery store in South Africa was advertising "Summer Christmas specials." Even here in Zambia, there are Santas and fairy lights for sale. It hurts my brain to anticipate Christmas in summer weather, but at least they're on the bandwagon of putting out holiday decorations right around Halloween.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Domestic life

This is Trevor washing dishes up at the spring. Below is Trevor opening the pseudo-gate, a bunch of sticks propped up to form a door.


We have made it back to Zambia, at least. We're in Chipata until tomorrow-- election day!!-- when our fearless leader drives us back to the village. (She's going on other business, lucky for us.)

It feels like home, especially since we've already bumped into four people we know, just wandering around town. By the time we sleep in our own bed tomorrow night, we will have been traveling six entire days. Plus the time change, which I think adds an extra day.

Maybe it's good that the journey has taken so long; it feels like we have traveled the distance we have traveled, both physically and psychologically. I was sad to leave Americaland, but I'm glad to be back in Zambia.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


That's Art, our language tutor. He's awesome.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


This is one of the new dogs. Bingo? Tiger? Njala? Kaya?
Who knows.

I wasn't choking it, I swear. Just trying to help it pose for a glamour shot.

Friday, October 31, 2008


The Chewa word for luggage or stuff is "kutundu."

I think I mentioned that we missed our flight today. While I waited at the South African Airways desk (for three or four hours), I met/tried to translate on behalf of a tiny Spanish-speaking lady who was trying to pay her excess baggage fee. The airline wanted to charge her $300 for 25 kg of stuff. She explained that she is a missionary and the extra stuff, personified by her bulging pink backpack, was medicine and I'm guessing Bibles that she planned to distribute. She didn't have $300. She had three twenty dollar bills folded into a journal in her purse.

I explained all this to the counter women, but they refused to help her. I wanted to yell at them, this woman is trying to HELP YOU PEOPLE, will you cut her a freaking break???

I have felt this same rage on my own behalf a few times, like when we were sitting at the immigration office in Chipata, the one with monkeys on the railing outside the windows, trying to convince some surly clerk to stamp our passports so we could go back to the village and sweat for another 30 days.

The Spanish lady missed her flight too. The second time I saw her, she was in line again, this time without the pink backpack, which she told me she was going to give to the counter ladies, I guess in the hope they would read the dang Bibles inside. The third time I saw her, she was in the internet cafe by the parking garage with runny mascara.


Gennie of jump rope also sent water colors. I got them out just before we left on holiday. They were very popular. The kids loved the brushes to shreds.

Pen pals

While we were home, our hometown newspaper did a nice piece on the pen-pal match I have with my good friend Ann. It was fun to teach her students, who are mostly African-American, a little bit about Africa. I couldn't believe how posh and well-equipped her classroom was-- full of books, learning games, markers, posters-- Smartboards, even. Village schools in Zambia have a hard time getting chalkboards.

Click here to read all about it!

Back to the hotel

Thanks to a late driver, mix-up with the flight times, and bad information at the baggage check-in, we managed to miss our flight back to Lilongwe this morning. So we're back to the hotel with our four ginormous bags of crap to wait for our flight out SUNDAY (yes, two days from now). The beautiful irony is that even though we are carrying more than our share of luggage, almost all of it is gifts for the family and supplies for our work projects (a bale of yarn, four soccer balls, 24 t-shirts, kid books, several hundred pencils, etc). So I have nothing but tank tops to change into and nary a drop of shampoo.

Luckily the manager of the hotel here is a gem who lent me her own personal soap and shampoo last night, plus a DVD to entertain us. She yelled at the driver so much I think she damaged her vocal cords.

We're socked in for the night with the bottle of wine we put on the "free" shelf this morning and reclaimed when we returned this afternoon. Considering the setback, things could be much, much worse.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Africa that feels like America

After around 24 hours on planes, we made it to Johannesburg, South Africa, an hour before our scheduled arrival-- with our ridiculous pile of luggage intact, even. Johannesburg looks like Southern California, not Africa-- at least not the Africa we know. We even passed a McDonald's.

We were fully prepared to camp out at the airport waiting for tomorrow's flight to Lilongwe, but since Trevor didn't sleep at all on the plane we decided to spring for a hotel we picked randomly out of the guidebook. Our new friend from the plane called the hotel and arrange a ride for us, which saved our bacon. The driver showed up bearing a placard with our names.

Everybody had us terrified about how dangerous it was in Johannesburg, but so far people have been nothing but wonderful. It's looking good for us to get back to Zambia tomorrow unscathed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kitchen stuff to bring

  • Ziploc freezer bags (the heavy ones; all sizes are handy)
  • Water bottle or two
  • Decent paring knife and a bigger kitchen knife, if you care about cooking.
  • Travel coffee press, if you’re an addict and/or coffee snob (only thing you can get in the hinterlands is instant coffee. Buy beans in Lusaka before you get posted!)
  • Spices (I brought chili powder, cumin, green chili, and an assortment a friend gave me. Totally worth it to make food that tastes like home. Cinnamon, black pepper and other basics are available here.)
  • Water-bottle drink mixes (These were a hot commodity during training. I brought Kool-Aid along with powdered stevia from the health food store—600 servings in one tiny bottle.)
  • Your favorite candy, especially sugarless gum if you’re a fan. You’ll start getting packages, but those snacks could save your bacon during those first few weeks. Also, share and make instant friends with your host family.
Seeds. You can buy seeds for basics like tomato, onion, and greens, but we had family send us broccoli, cilantro, basil, lettuce, mint.


Before we left, a heap of tomatoes was going for one pin, about 35 cents, and a bundle of greens for 500 kwacha, around 20 cents. If you spend "a lot," usually the lady will throw in an mbasela, or a gift, which is generally a small, funky tomato. If you ask for an mbasela, you will get the gift plus a big laugh from a lady who is surprised you know to ask for it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Other random stuff you should bring

  • Some American cash, but not a lot (PC will not store it for you in their safe, so don’t bring more than you can afford to lose.)
  • A ton of passport photos (bring more than PC requires if you can make them yourself for cheap. They don’t have to be “official” passport ones, just close enough. Carry them with you always, or you’ll end up having to get more even if you have a ton in your luggage. I speak from experience here.)
  • shortwave radio (If you have a solar or windup one, so much the better)
  • MP3 player, fully loaded (lord, did I get sick of my music on that first 10-hour bus trip)
  • Extra headphones; speakers (mine run off the MP3 player, which is then charged by the solio—pretty swell)
  • map of the world and/or USA and/or inflatable globe (I just bought a small US road atlas, too, for dreaming of future road trips)
  • photos (the more the better! Like another PCV, I would recommend arranging them into “share with host family” and “private” albums. Sometimes you just don’t want to explain.)
  • card games. A friend sent us “Quiddler,” sort of a card version of Scrabble that is super fun.
  • Frisbee and other outdoor toys (great way to bond with the kids before you can talk to them)
  • A couple of books, though the offices and province houses have tons of fairly decent books, and your friends will probably send you some. You’ll have limited access during training, but afterwards, no problem. I brought a yoga book and a writing book. The best thing ever, though, was the massive “Encyclopedia of Country Living” that a friend sent—I have referenced it hundreds of times for recipes and farm-related advice. Most of the PC houses have DVDs, too. Yee-haw!
  • Emergency sewing kit (at bare minimum, a needle and thread plus a big handful of safety pins, maybe a couple of extra buttons)
  • Craft supplies and instructions, if you’re the type (baby-weight acrylic yarn is plentiful here in almost every color, plus small knitting needles and crochet hooks—but that’s it.) I have raved about knitting here before. A hobby is a sanity saver.

These kids

The thing about them is, they're so darn happy. Or are they always laughing at us? It's hard to tell.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Other stuff you should bring, volume 1

  • Solio charger with all the tips (you’ll probably buy a cell phone here)
  • digital camera plus extra memory cards
  • thumb drive. I also have one that I can use to plug memory cards directly into a computer. Useful, plus saves camera battery life.
  • LED headlamp with tons of extra batteries. Spend the money on an LED one, seriously.
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape
  • Luggage locks
  • Carabiners: so handy!
  • Pocket knife or leatherman tool
  • Pens and mechanical pencils, sharpies
  • Rubber bands and paper clips (if you’re geeky about being organized like I am)
  • address book
  • some American postage. You will occasionally run into somebody traveling to the US who will carry letters for you.
  • calendar
  • double-sized fitted sheet (only place I’ve seen them for sale is the thrift piles, where they’re used. I am not jazzed about sleeping on used sheets, though I dig the 1970s patterns. PC issued us twin sheets when we arrived, but no fitted sheets.)
  • Thermarest (not essential but is nice for site visits and travel. If you have it, bring the chair-insert thingie for extra seating.)
  • Sleeping bag (also not essential but nice for travel. We use an old down comforter, which was great on our bed and for travel except when we went to different places for both site visits. But the PC-issued blankets would have been enough, probably.)
  • Tent (PC will advise you to bring one, but it’s not necessary since enough people have them that you can borrow, and usually when you visit somebody you can crash on their floor or in their insaka. However, if you’re a backpacking enthusiast, bring it.)
  • money belt, and please use it, will you? One of our friends got a huge ton of money stolen, and that will ruin your day.

Jump rope

Gennie sent a jump rope. Emmanuel had no idea how to jump rope, but he had fun trying.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Health and beauty!

What you can buy in Zambia: q-tips, toothpaste, shampoo: most of the basics, just probably not the brands you're used to.

  • towel (at PST they will give you a big piece of cloth and tell you to be Zambian and dry off with it; alas, chitenje fabric does not absorb water)
  • liquid hand sanitizer (I decided against it despite my mother’s protests, but I was kicking myself during training when we were getting sick all the time. Bring enough to get through training; at site you can install a handwashing station)
  • a keeper or diva cup and pantiliners (if you’re a tampon gal, PC provides them for free)
  • fingernail and toenail clippers
  • hair doo-dads, if necessary (I’d love a headband as my hair grows out in every direction)
  • lip gloss
  • Dramamine!! If you can buy it here, I haven’t seen it. You may wish for it on Land Cruiser rides. We burned through our whole supply in the first two months.
  • Prescriptions as necessary (PC will provide them but it will take awhile for the first batch)
  • Your PC medical kit, which you should receive almost immediately upon arrival, will include sunscreen, floss, ibuprofin, aspirin, antacids, bandaids, and a ton of other supplies. PC definitely looks after you in the OTC medicine department, so don’t stress about it unless there’s something you can’t live without.

The view from the hill

If you hike up the hill by our house and look back, this is what you see. Our house is down there, but hidden by a tree. You can make out our family's roof in about the center of the frame.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Clothing advice for the new folks

  • T-shirts that remind you of home. You can easily all the thrift-store-rejects you could ever want at the markets, for cheap, maybe even one from your high school or your hometown 5K!
  • Tank tops (not allowed during Pre-Service Training, but once you move to your site, villagers are not offended by skin above the waist)
  • Jacket or sweatshirt (yes, it gets cold! Also useful as a pillow for camping)
  • Skirts and trousers (Zambians reserve the word “pants” for underwear): capris would be nice. I wish I had brought my stretchy gauchos. Choose things that are comfortable for biking and presentable enough for meetings. Length for skirts must be past the knee or folks will think you're a hooley. And pockets are a must. I have worn my Macabi skirt for entire weeks. It is convertible for biking and has pockets you could use instead of suitcases. Zip-off pants: honestly, must you? Shorts are rare here, especially on women, though I rock knee-length ones in the village and don’t get stared at more than usual.
  • PJ pants (I got them copied by local tailors in crazy Zambian fabric: fun!)
  • Shorts for yoga or running, if necessary
  • Rain jacket
  • Sun hat (I brought a foldable one from the outdoors store and have worn it nearly every day), baseball cap
  • Sport sandals, tennis shoes or trail shoes. You can buy flip-flops aka “tropicals” here for a buck or two, but other shoes are expensive or plastic crap. For me, it’s Tevas every day.
  • Socks (Trevor swears by brown, which doesn’t show dirt)
  • A ton of underwear. Handwashing plus the equitorial sun destroys fabric fast; also, you need to rest clothes three days after washing to avoid botflies, so bring at least a 10-day supply.
  • Bandanas, the all-purpose accessory

Another biking shot

A few months ago, we biked to the tallest hill nearby and hiked a ways up it. In this picture, Trevor's on his way home from that adventure.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Packing advice for the new folks

I have read that the next batch of folks is getting invitations and preparing to come to Zambia, so I thought it was a good time to post the packing advice I have obsessed about off and on for months. I was going to post a link to a document, but I can't figure out how to do it, so it will be a series of blog posts for the next few days.

First: Almost anything is mailable or available in Lusaka, so there’s no need to freak out. You won’t have much time to hunt and gather during training, but afterwards you’ll have two years to fill your tiny hut with crap.

After you arrive in country, you will almost immediately get on transport with only a daypack for your first site visit. Then you will move to your host family with only the bare minimum of your stuff, while the rest lives in storage until you get posted to your site. If you remember this when you’re packing at home, it will save you a lot of angst rearranging your bags when you get here.

My advice is: go light on clothing, since basic shirts and trousers are easy to find here. When you arrive, you will realize how crazy it is to care about “outfits.” Save your luggage space for things that will make you happy. For me, that meant electronics, snacks, and craft supplies. It will be different for you.

When we arrived, PC loaded us down with twin sheets, a pillow, heavy blanket, mosquito net, soap, medical kit, water filter, notebooks, pens and huge piles of paperwork. Once we got our bikes, we received a helmet, bell, rack, water bottle with cage, lock, patch kit, pump and tool. You should get a brand-new bike with a pretty comfortable seat. Don't bring any of that stuff!


(Another rerun, with added photo and punctuation):
Trevor has gone to Chipata for a meeting.
No time for me to be lonely or bored, though. The minute he drove away,
the girls dragged me over and did my hair. A Princess Lea do only with
multiple buns.
(The hairdo was modeled on Elizabeth's, obviously. But clearly her hair has the texture necessary for this to work elegantly.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fabric shop

Did I mention I bought a little fabric before we came home?
This is one of the places where I stocked up. You point at what you want and the dude gets it for you. Well, the other dude does. This guy is the owner. Mostly he does what you see here: reads South African gossip magazines and waits for somebody to hand him money.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


When we ride over the hill and see this, we know we're almost there. Our hut is on the right, halfway up the hill off in the distance. This is a normal amount of traffic for lunchtime on a hot day. It's busy early and late.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pyramid scheme

I wish I could get bonus points from Peace Corps for recruiting. In addition to showing my pictures to dozens of impressionable young kids at my niece and nephew's school (though they liked the slingshot the most), I've been talking up the Peace Corps to every stranger I meet during this trip, from the lady who cut my hair to the hygenist at the dentist's office to the clerk at the bookstore. I want a patch or something if they join up because of me! Bonus points! A raise! Green stamps!

This afternoon I spent a good long time wandering around both the bookstore and the teacher store, getting kind of depressed by how many fantastic games, books and educational toys are available here, how very much they cost, and how unable I am to load them all up in my suitcase to take back to my deserving neighbors in Zambia. Boo hoo.

If anybody has used copies of any Eric Carle or Dr. Seuss books, especially One Fish Two Fish or Green Eggs and Ham, and wants to send them to Zambia, you might qualify for instant sainthood. (I'll check with the pope and get back to you.)

Church ladies

(Since we're on vacation, this episode is a rerun. Unlike a rerun, it includes photographic proof)
Unlike me, Trevor is never shy. Saturday when we rode past a church
choir practicing outside, Trevor thought he heard someone say stop. So
he did. I turned back to see him dancing along with them. We taught
them the only song I could recall from many years of church camp and
they offered us sweet beer. Joy joy joy down in my heart.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Perhaps you remember the drama that surrounded the building of the third room on our house a few months back. Well, here are the pictures of that blessed event. That's Londolani and Anastasio laying bricks and putting grass on the roof.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Maize is a staple food in Zambia, as we have discussed.
This time of year, people are eating dried maize that requires lots of boiling. This happens in hand-built clay pots (as shown) snugged between burning logs. It looks appropriate for the Halloween season, eh?
(Q: Do they know it's Halloween? A: No.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nice to see you

Our hometown neighbor Emma brought a card to this afternoon's party that makes my hair tingle.

(Her mom helped me read it: "Nice to see you again, Trevor and Lisa.")

We got to know Emma when she bonded with our dog Lulu on Emma's walks around the 'hood with her mom and little brother. I would watch them walking by and think she was so cute in her tutus and blonde curls. Emma was terrified of Lulu at first (Lulu is a jumper, and she shows her teeth like she's about to bite your ankles when she is actually smiling with glee) but after awhile she always wanted to hold Lulu's leash when we stopped to talk.

We only chatted in the street until the day Emma asked to come in and see Lulu's bed. Her mom was horrified, but it was the start of a real friendship that transcended just being friendly neighbors.

It was nice to see them again.


I was so impressed with the sheer volume of stuff Melba was able to cram into this package that I took a picture. Also, that Domino magazine ruled.
Not pictured: The Spiderman fruit strips we scarfed down before we even made it home from the post office.

Bike maintenance

Our chains get dusty. Also, we get a lot of flat tires.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Our amai washes Emmanuel in a little tub on the porch every afternoon. Then she lotions him up to make him shiny. After he puts his clothes back on, he usually goes straight to the sand and rolls around for awhile.

He doesn't look happy in this picture, but really he doesn't mind when mom bathes him, though he screams bloody murder when the sisters do it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Remember how I taught the Musalilia folks how to play Twister?
Here's proof. Think they liked it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Our bags arrived. Hallelujah.

The drum we were carrying for a friend is soggy and got dropped and perhaps tossed about. Everything else is fine, including about twenty million yards of fabric, a slingshot for my dad, and several packages of Tasty Soya Chicken.


We are home for a quick visit (yes, we're going back to Zambia, and no, nobody died). While we wait for our luggage to join us, we are swooning with joy and hugging many dear friends. Also, we are enjoying the effects of jet lag or maybe just our Zambia-formed habit of getting up at 5 a.m.

Yesterday we took advantage of the hour by going running. Cruising the darkened streets by foot seems to me like how a blind person sees a face by feeling the contours. I ran past our house, the library-- saying hello to my favorite yards.

We run around 5 a.m. in Zambia, too, but there it's to avoid the heat and to minimize the amount of people we have to greet. Even at 5 a.m., in Zambia the streets are teeming with ladies walking to the market with bundles on their heads, kids racing to school, and bicyclists toting unfortunate goats. Here, I passed one elderly man out for his morning stroll (and probably terrified him with my enthusiastic greeting), lots of people driving to work, and several bicyclists wearing helmets. We're used to being the only people in the nation with helmets, so I felt a certain kinship. It's great to be home.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This entry brought to you by the number Fourteeney

Emmanuel's new game is to repeatedly come and ask to borrow our three
Hot Wheels cars. He plays for a few minutes, brings them back, waits
five minutes, then asks for them again. Each time, he counts them:
"One, two, FIVE!"

Then he takes the cars and promises to bring them back. His favorite
is the convertible, though he tolerates the ambulance, which he simply
considers a truck.

His other favorite number is "fourteeney," inserted randomly, and with
feeling, in every sequence of numbers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Travels with Elias

Elias said we were leaving for Chipata at 6 a.m., but the car wasn’t outside when we woke up at 5. At 5:20, Elias odied at the door to see if we were ready. Ten minutes later, Mr. Daka showed up with the car. I thought we might actually leave early.

Then we drove to town to Mr. Daka’s second wife’s house and waited for her to get ready, then into town for them to pump up the spare tire (which required emptying all the luggage out of the trunk), and to buy two liters of gas from some guys in another car. Then we all sat in the car for awhile. At one point, Mr. Daka leaned in the driver side window to pass in a handful of bubble gum and said a bunch of stuff that included the word “problem.”

Still, we left around 6:30. Then we turned around just outside town and came back because Elias had forgotten the engine he was supposed to take to Chipata.

We made it by 8:30.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Coffee break

I’ve been reluctant to say this because I love it so much, but we don’t need any more emergency coffee shipments at the moment, thanks to the bean love from many friends. According to my rough calculations, we’re good until mid-2009. If you were planning on sending me a birthday present, we may need coffee around May, but maybe by then we will have sourced a way to buy the coffee that allegedly grows in eastern Africa. We’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Up for debate

Further proof that many Zambians care more about American politics than your average American: Today in the village I’ve seen two guys who both got up at 2 a.m. to watch the U.S. presidential debate on satellite TV. How many of us ever watch debates, even when we don’t have to miss sleep?

It seems a shame that they don’t get to vote in our election, seeing as they actually care and all.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Singing in the shower

The other day I came home in a terrible mood. When I went to take a
shower, Trevor set up shop outside the shelter and serenaded me with
the Carole King song he'd been learning. If you've heard Trevor sing
you'll know why this made me laugh so hard I got water up my nose.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Remember how Elias said i could name the puppies? I was thinking njala
and kaya, meaning hungry and i don't know. We were hanging out with
amai the other night and she asked me what i wanted to name the dogs.
I told her and she nodded politely. How about bingo? Ok, bingo. We
taught her the song and i suggested yahtzee for the other one. She
said fine and went home. A few minutes later she came back. How about

Ok so i have officially named the dogs bingo and tiger. But i can
still call them njala and kaya. It will be our secret.


It's been quite the week for cross cultural exchange. I got to see
young kids practicing traditional fertility dances at school. Then
Yesterday i played twister with the musalila literacy class. I bribed
them into saying 'purple' by offering skittles. And taught them the
word of the day, toe. They thought they were called fingers and i
considered letting them continue thinking that because i found it
funny. And today the basket guy found us riding to town and i bought
more baskets somewhere between the foreigner and correct price.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Reading people magazine with my host sister turns out to be a bad
idea. Keep having to explain about britney spears mental illness, half
naked pictures in a culture where women don't even show their knees,
houses full of dishwashers and computers. Even her few books, she has
no context to understand for example why americans are obsessed with
kidnapping. But what would she relate to? Couldn't think of anything
until i remembered my own kid hood obsession with little house on the
prairie. Anybody has one on their bookshelf and wants to send it, i
will read it with deresia and let you know what she thinks. Would
welcome any book a new reader could grasp. I think the little kids
would dig dr. Suess. Let's spread the love of reading!


American roosters say cock a doodle doo. Zambian roosters say happy
new year. Obviously they are not aware It's just october.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Trevor's job

Several people have asked what tre does. Officially he is an agro
forestry extension agent. I'm so much more, he says. Specifically he
is distributing seeds for multiplication, mentoring some kid
environment clubs, recording radio pieces and growing conservation
trees. Also he buys a lot of junk at the market, listens to jazz,
searches for stations on his world band radio and glues found pictures
into cast off books. Same old Trevor.

Monday, September 29, 2008


After hearing about them for months, i finally saw some of Chadiza's
famous monkeys. They were in the road, eating trash thrown by kids
walking home from school. They were the size of a five year old kid.
Gray with black faces. Long tails. I want one.


We were running low on sticks so i sent Trevor on a run this morning
while i was frying up banana pancakes. He came back with an entire
tree top. It's like i bought firewood at sam's, he told me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


We used to wish for a borehole nearby. Now we're just glad they fixed
the one in chipanku, the next village over. Maybe those ladies will
stop draining our spring. This morning when we walked up with our
soapy clothes we could barely dip out enough muddy water to rinse
them. Clean isn't really an option here.

In other news i introduced junior to the can opener yesterday. He is
nine. It was my 'gods must be crazy' moment of the week.


We are never out after dark but somehow evening excitement finds us.
Last night the thrill was looking at the five foot long snake our host
dad's drunk brother killed outside our house. He claimed it was a
cobra though it was hard to make out any features by the time we saw

Friday, September 26, 2008


Yet again nobody showed for english class in musalila village. Still,
teaching opportunities abound. Yesterday i introduced my sister to
word seek puzzles. This afternoon we shared booty from a package with
an elderly friend of Trevor's. A spiderman fruit rollup. We had to
explain that you don't eat the paper, only the sweet part. He
proclaimed it very nice.


The concrete in our new kitchen is finally dry so we are moving in.
I'm reading up on improved stoves. Friends in mo who are pro
sustainable livers sent books. We plan to build a rocket stove and
solar oven when we get some metal. Today i made a haybox of cardboard.
Foil and padded envelopes. A low tech crockpot to cook lunches as we
go through a liter of peanut butter a week and are sick of it.

In other news we learned today that soy milk goes funky just like
regular, complete with bulging carton. Also dogs scratch that spot on
their neck even if they never wear a collar. Fleas are universal.
Puppy belly must be especially delicious.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


If i could give any advice to incoming peace corps volunteers, it
would be to cultivate a portable hobby. You will spend more time than
you thought possible waiting for people and sitting in meetings you
don't understand. Having something to do is a sanity saver. Personally
I recommend knitting. I am halfway through my third pair of socks
since may. Just bring plenty of yarn.


After eating the lunch i made myself plus shima with the family, i had
decided to forgo dinner and instead relax on the stoop with the kitty
and a cocktail. Around the time i was ready to put myself to bed,
Elias came to the door. Shima is all he said. So much for my plan.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Yes we have no

Lately there has been a mysterious banana shortage, so when i saw
ladies selling them by the post office i loaded up on more than i can
eat. An armload cost me 20 cents. The price suggests the scarcity is

Still problems with the mail truck though. But i was shocked to see
their new computer. They want me to teach them to use it. Can internet
be far behind?

Missing Trevor

Since Trevor is still in Chadiza, the house is quiet. But being alone
gives me a chance to enjoy popcorn for dinner and hogging the bed.
Also i bought Trevor his own cell phone last week so we are texting
each other as if we were in junior high.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Now that i'm home from chipata, Trevor has gone there for a meeting.
No time for me to be lonely or bored though. The minute he drove away,
the girls dragged me over and did my hair. A princess lea do only with
multiple buns. I took pictures.

Today i rode over to zingalume school to talk about american education
at the 6 am teacher meeting. Later i will ride to town to help the
post guys with their new computer and visit the tailor. Or maybe i
will grab a puppy and enjoy a few moments of quiet.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


One thing I forgot to mention when I explained the nuts & bolts is that even though I can't actually respond to comments due to my crap internet setup, I love them and read them more times than is probably mentally healthy, so feel free to comment. I'm responding on the inside.

Nuts & bolts

In case you’re a newish reader, I wanted to post a note about how this blog makes its way to the web. Unless I’m in town, which is rare these days, I compose entries on my cell phone. Then I email the posts to the blog using Gmail, when I can get enough bars on the phone for the message to go.

When we first arrived, I couldn’t read Gmails at all. Now, Yahoo won’t work on my cell phone but Gmail will. Go figure. If you send a comment, it will be forwarded to me automatically, and I can read it, but I can’t see your email address to write back to you. For that matter, I can’t see any email addresses to respond, so unless I have your email memorized or written on paper, I can’t send you a message. I know, it’s stupid and frustrating. But it’s better than nothing, right?

I do cherish the comments and emails I get, and try to respond eventually. Unfortunately, even in town I rely on the whims of dial-up internet and frequent power outages, so if it seems like your messages disappear into a black hole, they sort of do. Except that I appreciate them.


I am home from chipata, where i had way too much fun watching movies,
baking pizza, staying up late. But that barely compares to coming home
to find a bush fire inches from our outhouse and its grass roof. Elias
put it out with what was supposed to be my bath water.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


There’s a joke that some people see the glass as half full, some half empty, and a PCV sees a glass of water and says, “I could take a bath in that.”

I’m at the Chipata house, where something is wrong with the hot water heater. When the stars align and the power and water are on at the same time, I heat water and take a bucket bath. I feel relatively clean. My white t-shirt, on the other hand, looks like I’ve been dusting the floor with it. White is a bad color for clothes in Zambia. It's sometimes dicey for skin, too, honestly.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I just finished A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, which was written in the 1970s but was a refreshing answer to Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent, which depressed and ticked me off.

Bryson judged America by truck stops and through the windshield of his car. Jenkins walked through rural America and met real people, who impressed him with their kindness and generosity, as human beings tend to do. “America had opened its heart and embraced me mile by mile, and family by family,” he writes.

I’m not opposed to well-reasoned and usually deserved America bashing, but I think my home country deserves a chance to show its good side. After all, I don’t want to be judged solely by my darkest moments.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


If you're a regular blog reader, you'll know that last week I met a lady who works with PWAs who crochet to try and make a living, and I was hoping that eventually they could sell their stuff to rich white people traveling to the game parks nearby.

At yesterday's otherwise not that interesting meeting, one of the guys told me he was able to find a carpenter to produce wood crochet hooks for me, at a price of 2 pin each (about 75 cents). Furthermore, he was planning to bring me 10 today (he will have to settle for Trevor).

Today when I was trying to figure out how to hook into Chipata's wireless cloud (I know!! And it would cost me three months' salary! It ain't gonna happen!), in the internet-place waiting room I met a lady who works at a lodge at a game park. They have a gift shop! They are just getting started and would love to talk about selling crafts from the village! Here's her card!

It will all come together. Well, maybe not the internet thing. But all the other stuff.

Also, the ice cream parlor that was going to open in June? They have tables and a cooler now, and they're advertising for help. Things are looking good.


Today i had my quickest ride to chipata yet. Plus for half the way i
had a seat where hardly any of me was pressed into anyone else. And
the bus owner would not take money. He just wants me to bring him some
obama stuff when we visit the states.

Trevor and i both get practice in gracious receiving this week. While
i'm gone i suspect people will feed him as if he were starving, like
when i went to the navy ship a few years ago and he had so many
invites he stopped answering the phone.

We came as volunteers so It's easy to forget that we are also members
of the community. This means people want to care for us, not just take
our help. For us this is surprisingly hard.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


We have been setting the alarm a tiny bit earlier every day, in hopes
of finding a deserted road to run on and to see if we can wake up
before the family. But As of today, i give up. When i went outside to
pee at 3 30, our host parents were already awake for the day, working
by moonlight.

This explains why our host mom falls asleep right after dinner
whenever we eat over there.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Maybe because we have less people to talk to, in english anyway, we
seem to talk to ourselves more lately. I overheard Trevor yesterday
saying, what's this in my pocket? It's just my wallet, don't worry
about it.

I will get worried when he starts to argue with himself.


On a good week, The mail truck comes twice a week. With fuel shortages
this has been disrupted such that the truck has not made it out to
Chadiza in more than a week. I tell myself this increases the chance
we will receive something when it finally comes. Sigh.

Fresh start

Saturday Elias came home with two puppies. At first he tied them up
with wire under the chicken house but luckily seems to have decided
It's better to let them romp around like the puppies they are. They
like pancakes. He says i can name them.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Calling all crocheters

I have met a lady who is a working with women with aids to sell
crochet items so they can support their families. They do beautiful
work but need yarn. I am hoping to get them making animals they can
sell for a good price at the game park near here.

You crafters, if you need to unburden yourself of yarn, patterns
especially animals, or hooks, you stand to gain karma, warm fuzzies
and storage space. Ask at your post office about international prepaid
boxes. They seem the best deal. My address is at left. Thanks in
advance from the ladies of mangwe village.

Bush note

For villagers without cell phones, communication is often by bush
note, delivered by kids. Tuesday i got one from the village where i
work with the literacy group.

Dear lisa, i hope you are fine. Back to me just okey. Sorry my friend
people here have gone to zingalume school for meeting with plan. So we
have received a letter that all members with bees should attend. So
come on thursday. Yours in deep love elizabeth.


In the village, we buy oil and cookies at a tuck shop, bananas and
tomatoes at the market, and we wait for the guys to come around on
their bikes with the rest. That's how we bought our reed mat and last
week brooms. I saw a guy the other day with a bike loaded in bamboo

Today i was on my way to a meeting when the basket guy rolled up.
After intense negotiating between him and host mom, i bought two big
flat maize baskets and one that would be perfect for a picnic. Grand
total, eight pin. Less than three bucks. Even better, mom says she
told the guy i want to learn to make them. Traditionally It's man work
but she thinks they will teach me since i am a foreigner.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Plastic or plastic

I always laughed at the warnings on plastic bags. Who lets their kid
play with plastic bags?

I think of this because i just saw our cattle boy walk by wearing a
tribal looking headdress fashioned of grocery sacks. Without plastic
bags most zambian kids would have no toys at all. Definitely no soccer
balls. Just now junior is testing a spinny push toy made from wire and
oil cans. Their creativity amazes me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Trevor says he will never be bored enough for chess or solitare. I am
not bored but lately have gotten into crossword puzzles. I am terrible
at the but find those little boxes maddeningly addictive. Is it
possible that i miss filling in forms? Pseudo thoughtful busywork?
Standardized tests? ,

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


If i am turning into my grandmother, tre is boo radley. We fretted
about what to do with junk too good to burn but too junky to give
away. After he broke his childhood compass, he stashed the cracked
shell in the crook of a tree. Within the hour the treasure had


They say women turn in to their mothers as they age. I think i am
becoming my grandmother. I have her chin and hope to inherit her
longevity. She's 97.

Living in the country and back in time has me obsessing over beets and
yeast rolls. I wish i had learned to pickle and can while grandma was
still cooking. She would laugh about my attempts to learn from a book.

Monday, September 8, 2008


It is remarkable how much sand you can pick up, simply by dumping a
tub of freshly washed laundry in the sand.

Trevor thought it was funny. We'll see if he is still laughing when he
is shaking grit out of his underwear all week.

God, i miss my washing machine.

Sunday paper

We had the perfect sunday. Long run in the morning, way too much
coffee, trading sections of the new york times. So what if it was a
month old? It is such luxury to revel in that great writing, the
quirky stories. It felt like a vacation, at least in our minds.

First the bad news

The sweet dog we called twinkie got run over saturday. Yes, on a road
that sees maybe ten cars a day. The driver left her sprawled in the
road. It looked like she was sleeping.

Elias says we will get two new dogs. There are plenty to spare. This
time i will not get attached.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


We seem to have no luck with dogs here. Yesterday the sweet girl we
called twinkie got run over. The guy who did it just left her sprawled
in the road. I thought she was sleeping.

Our host dad says we will get two more dogs. There are plenty around
here. Next time i will not get attached.


Thursday, September 4, 2008


Today was the most successful language class yet in musalila, a
village up in the hills near here. I held a baby born friday and
taught some ladies right and left, hand and foot by playing twister. I
laughed until i felt kind of queasy. In other news, tre gave up sugar
this morning. After lunch he decided he would feel better if he had a
cookie or three. Seemed to help his general outlook.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Small dried fishies cost more than big ones. As i established this,
the nearby lady who sells beans told another lady, she isn't going to
eat those. They are for her dog. The other lady asked me, is that
true? I had to admit it. Except It's the dog and cat both. This caused
a mild scandal in the market. I am proud that i can have this
conversation in a language i had never even heard of six months ago.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Several people have sent things for our host family. I wish you could
be here to see the joy your gifts bring. But we are learning that gift
giving is complicated here. Anything we give directly to the kids,
aside from sweeties, evaporates into the sand. And jealousy causes
conflict. So we hand gifts over to mom and dad for distribution. I
gave mom a package intended for elizabeth. Mom and the big kids tried
out the jump rope. She folded away the dress for eliz. The sparkle
flip flops took a cinderella trip through the family before finding a
fit with junior, the middle son. He is thrilled to own shoes. Around
dinner he skipped over to ask me to read the label. Fittingly, it is


Our latest round of mail ran the spectrum of contents, from fancy
health food snacks to junk drawer flotsam and leftover holiday gifts.
While we love and admire the folks who shop carefully, the junk
senders are nearest my heart, since That's exactly what i would do.

My parents sent a much needed replacement headlamp. They have also
been sending our mail along with the food we dumped at their house
when we moved. Every box also contains random tea bags and candy from
distant holidays.

Tre's old roommate Kerrie sent a trove of vegetarian delight and
filled the box's air spaces with mini toothpaste tubes to counter the
candy, and take out ketchup packs. I am so impressed. And hoping she
fills up her purse with mild sauce next time she goes to taco bell.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mail call

For the record, i am grateful i can email from a cell phone in rural
zambia. So what if there is the occasional glitch, like being unable
to access my address book or in any way find contact information, the
important thing is that we got a fat mail haul today and my parents,
john and gennie. Kerrie, and the ultimate mail goddess lea should
watch their mailboxes for love from zambia. I just posted a batch of
letters after the last blitz. We are getting to be pals with the post
guys. They love our old economists and newsweeks. I love their little
green package slips.

Small town

We may as well be in the midwest again. Our host dad bought a small
truck, so sunday afternoon every guy in town stopped by to help him
fix it. A dozen kids watched. When it was finally running, all the
kids piled in back for a ride. I spent many summer afternoons in the
back of a pickup truck. Trevor remembers hanging out with the guys,
listening to cardinals games on a transistor radio. All That's missing
here is budweiser.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cowpea sausages

Several of you have asked about the Cowpea sausages. They took all
freaking day to make. First you boil the peas, then chat with the
ladies while peeling off the skins or bags as they are called here.
That was the long part. Then you pound them along with oil, tomato
powder, garlic, salt. Form into hot dog shapes and fry, saving the oil
for later frying. Then take the sausages home and cook them in sauce.
We ate ours with mustard. They were delicious but not enough for me to
do the work at home. Who has all day.


When we left for our training in Lusaka it was cold enough that we
wore socks at night and slept under a down comforter. While we were
gone it got hot. We have spent the past few afternoons hiding from the
sun in our hut. The good thing is our bath water heats up in the sun
almost instantly. So much so that we dilute it with cold. Today trevor
hiked a hill with our neighbor koh. They report that the cold beers
afterward tasted especially good.

Friday, August 29, 2008


Amid talk of world hunger these days we have our own private food
crisis in Chadiza. The family already eats shima for every meal and
there is still plenty of corn but they alternate relishes, the veg mix
you pick up with the shima. Until this week, that is, when goats got
in the garden and ate all the pumpkin leaves. Host mom complained that
she doesn't feel like eating since It's rape yet again.
At least this answers my question of whether Zambians get sick of the
same food every day.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Several people have emailed with concern about how the death of Zambia's president will affect political stability.

We don't know, though of course people assume that the transition will be stable, as Zambians are peaceful people. They achieved independence without bloodshed, so we're hoping elections will be smooth. Of course, that's what they thought in Kenya, too.

We got to witness history Saturday, when our taxi was diverted by a roadblock as we passed by the site of the funeral. Mourners lined the streets to pay tribute to the procession. 

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Happy happy!

If you see my grandma, wish her a happy birthday! She turns 97 today. 

Lamely, I forgot to send her a card, though I've been aware of her birthday every day for weeks. (Mostly hoping that I have inherited her longevity. I definitely got the family chin.)

I wish I had a great picture of her to post, as there are many since she is so darned cute, but I'm using somebody else's computer. We're staying with expats in Lusaka, soaking up their satellite TV, chowing down on real Ritz crackers from the USA, and even reading a People magazine that is still on American newstands. It's going to be surreal to go back to the village tomorrow. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Even gmail is now wonky. Supposedly it's because the cell phone company has been bought. For whatever reason, we haven't been able to check email from the phone lately. Fingers crossed that all will be resolved soon.

Friday, August 22, 2008


We've just finished a week of in-service training that marks the end of our community entry period, our first three months at site. The training included two days of project-development in conjunction with our village counterparts. We learned things like how to make a Problem Tree. Even if they didn't learn anything, our partners from the adult literacy project were thrilled to be invited to Lusaka by Peace Corps. The workshop was a validation of our working relationship that I think will jumpstart a burst of activity when we return to the village. 

We learned about the importance of allowing projects to be driven by community interests. My counterpart, Art, admired the Zambian handbags carried by many PCVs. He thinks we should start a sewing workshop as an income-generating activity in our village.

This is an idea I can support with enthusiasm.

Monday, August 18, 2008


We have come back to lusaka for more pc training. It's time to get
serious about the projects we will tackle over the next two years.
Also It's a chance to catch up with our group. Unless they are in our
province, folks may as well live on mars. We are spread far and wide
across a country with two barely paved roads.
People seem happy. Deep tans and scruffy hair. There seems to be a
general sense of calm now that we have settled into our own village

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Monkey hut

Across the road from our house is this hill, with cornfields and a hut for guarding the corn harvest against marauding baboons.


Occasionally we eat at one of the restaurants in town. This one is called Country Kitchen. I asked for soya pieces, which they didn't have, so I went next door and bought a package. Then the cook took me into the kitchen so I could show her how to prepare them.


Several weeks ago, I took a tour of local literacy classes. This one meets outside a local village. They don't have much in the way of supplies, as you can see.

Trevor and Elias

Elias is our host father. He is always running around Chadiza. One of his many projects is building a shop in town where he plans to sell "many small things."

Cowpea Sausages

I learned how to make cowpea sausages the other day with one of the volunteer literacy teachers. The best part was hanging out in her house and chatting all morning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Indian food! And more

We are still reeling in a sugar and info coma following yesterday's
historic mail haul, which included every possible flavor of fruit
leather, indian food, and vanity fairs. This batch of mail includes
the prize for most unexpected correspondant, my friend heather's mom
vickie, who i have not seen since heather's wedding, two kids ago. Hi
vickie! Thanks! Everyone else, personal shout outs to come when i get
to chipata. Hopefully tomorrow.


Monday, August 11, 2008


Last weekend the carpenter finished our new shelves. To protect them
from the termites that eat our walls and wood we bought varnish.
Elias wandered up while i smeared it around with a corn cob. He rooted
under the chicken house for a minute and emerged with feathers he tied
with a piece of string from a mealie meal sack. African paint brush he
told me. It worked much better than the corncob.



Unlike me, Trevor is never shy. Saturday when we rode past a church
choir practicing outside, Trevor thought he heard someone say stop. So
he did. I turned back to see him dancing along with them. We taught
them the only song i could recall from many years of church camp and
they offered us sweet beer. Joy joy joy down in my heart.


Saturday, August 9, 2008


Our youngest host brother, Emmanuel. He is four years old and loves to eat sugar cane and to play with cars, though he quickly loses them in the sand. He also loves drawing. Loves: soccer/football, drawing, cars, sugar cane. Hates: cold baths.

Music in the air

There is a fundraiser going on at the Jehovah’s Witness church that we pass on our way into town. There have been crowds there this week, and groups of women are riding around on the back of flatbed trucks drumming up business by singing. I love the joyous acapella harmonies that float into the air.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Holiday spirit

Christmas spirit is in full force in Chadiza, maybe because it’s still chilly in the mornings. This morning on my ride to town, I passed a woman wearing a santa hat. By the post office, I saw a lady wearing a Twelve Days of Christmas sweatshirt. Do they know it’s Christmas, indeed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


In attendance at the inaugural literacy class: five adult students, three babies, five children watching from a safe distance, one herd of cows tramping through the assembled students. One of the cows wandered into the classroom building we were sitting outside, giving me a rare opportunity to make a funny in the local language: “The cow wants to study.”

During class, there was lots of laughter (not just at my joke), seemingly because people though it was so hilarious to hear English coming out of their own mouths.

Get about

Many grateful thanks to Trevor's former colleagues, whose packet of
coffee and tshirt has got about the globe into our greedy paws. Trevor
is composing a letter that will take its sweet time making its way to
you. Thanks!


I am unusually busy this week with teacher meetings that start with
typical Zambian punctuality. The good thing is this gives me lots of
time to knit. The bad thing is i don't have enough padding on my butt
to sit in a wood chair all morning.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

World meats

Trevor had another culinary first yesterday when he tasted impala.
Since impalas look like deer he expected it to taste like venison, but
it reminded him of beef.
I did not try the meat. I did still have one of those wow i live in
africa moments though riding my bike on a bush path to a literacy club
meeting at a nearby village. The only sign of human inhabitation was
the dirt path marked with footprints and bike tire treads. Being so
far from so called civilization would have freaked me out recently.
But i knew exactly where i was. And that i was surrounded by people,
even if it seemed like i was alone. It feels very normal here. That is
amazing to me.


I just finished reading Ann Patchett’s book Bel Canto, about birthday party guests who get taken hostage by terrorists. Lately it seems like every book I read relates to my Peace Corps service, but this one did especially.

Even though we are, after all, volunteers, I think every one of us goes through bouts of feeling held hostage, of serving out a sentence, of “us” versus “them.” Opera plays a big role in the book, and while I am not an opera fan, I agree that music grounds us in time and place. When I am listening to or making music, I am here and now. Like when I ride past the church and hear the drifting harmony.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Happy farmers day!

We celebrated by cursing our cell reception and taking a bike ride to
the nearby big hill. We left our bikes with a family shelling beans
and hiked up up up. Great views even though we didn't hit the top.
After we snapped digital photos of the family and showed them. Thrills
and giggles all around.

Friday, August 1, 2008


At tutoring today art told us that some people think we peace corps
volunteers are spies. Trevor told him that we are. We live out in the
bush so we can keep an eye on their corn. Personally, i would rather
spy on pigs. They are much more entertaining. They wag their tails
just like fat little puppies. Alas they also eat poo.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love and marriage

Trevor visited a farmer for a tour of his fields. The farmer
introduced him to his wives. Of the second one he said, 'i married
this one to chase away the babboons.' How romantic.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Further foods

For dinner last night we had a vegetable we sometimes enjoy in the
states. Here It's small, white and shaped like an egg. In english we
call it an eggplant. Here It's impwa, a word that has nothing to do
with egg or plant. Tastes pretty good with peanut butter and garlic
sauce, our friend kate's recipe.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Satanic salad

Maybe i misunderstood, but Trevor and i are both sure we heard a lady
on the radio here equate eating raw food with witchcraft. This has
added some spice to our salads. Not sure if the family buys it, though
they do seem to cook their lettuce. With the workers finishing up the
new room, we hid in the house for lunch, furtively chowing down on
chard and sprouts. Host mom chose then to come ask for cooking oil.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

We've got mail

The cosmic postal logjam has finally cleared. I walked out of the post
office today with a comical stack of packages. Trevor has asked me to
hide the skittles lest he hurt himself. We got mail magic from charles
and nora, susan and joe, heather, karen. And lea. Twice! We are wading
through excellent letters, comics, snacks, powdered cheese, god love
it. Thank you all. We are not worthy, but are sure grateful.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The other day i was washing clothes up at the spring when one of the
boys in the family showed up to do his own laundry. His method
involved splashing some water on the clothes, then spreading them on a
rock and dancing a little jig on them. I can't imagine any american
kid i know hand washing their own clothes but if they had to i think
they would approve of junior's technique.


Trevor has sworn off meetings. I am tempted to do the same. The other
day he left yet another meeting after an hour when it showed no sign
of starting. My meeting yesterday got postponed for the fourth time.
He is spending the morning with a farmer who lives down the road. Much
happier and probably even more productive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fries with that

Another culinary milestone today. After watching bwalya fry chicken
sunday i felt confident enough to make real fries for the first time
in my life. Trevor was impressed. While we ate, a guy rolled up on his
bike looking for a pump. He got a flat while headed to the boma with a
goat and a pig strapped to his rack. And you thought you were having a
bad day.

Today's milestone

We took advantage of the cheese we brought back from chipata to make
our first village pizza. Baked on the hot coals in our mud stove, it
was a little burnt on the bottom and raw on top. Absolutely delicious.
Host mom strolled over to see what we were up to and sampled a slice.
She pronounced it nice.

Monday, July 21, 2008


We had a tutoring session with art phiri this morning. He was sad
because somebody stole one of his oxen this weekend. They skinned it
right outside his house. His dogs didn't even bark. This led art to
conclude the thief used magic. Now He needs a new ox to complete his


I spent the most excellent day yesterday baking with my friend bwayla.
We had to adjust our recipes a little based on availability, but the
bagels cookies and brownies were edible. No, excellent. Trevor would
gladly live on bagels alone so he was thrilled.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Another round trip from Chadiza to chipata under our belts. Or wheels.
Still havent managed to make the ride in less than five hours, todays
trip slowed by many stops to retrieve Trevors flying overloaded bike
bag. Gravel and gravity conspiring. We arrived to find the guys
working on our addition. A third room rises from dirt. Arriving here
this afternoon, it felt like home,

Friday, July 18, 2008

Big city

We're spending a few days in the big bad city, renewing our work papers and stocking up on food. The most unexpected things are sometimes available here. Huge chunks of cheddar cheese, strawberry Rice Krispies (no other flavor), apple-flavored Orbit gum, little Equal tablets, Doritos. But no stick deoderant, cheese slices, or our usual granola. The ice cream machine at Shop Rite has been broken, as is the ATM-card-making machine at Barclays. But the Indian-ish restaurant down the street has overpriced cupcakes with pink frosting.

We take what we can get, and are grateful.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Lately, several people have mentioned that they'd like to visit.

Come on down! (Or over, or whatever it is from where you are to where we are.)

We would love any and all visitors, even if we haven't talked in a long time, even if you are a total stranger. Honestly. If you're crazy enough to make the trip here, we will be thrilled to host you. If all goes well, we will even have a new and expanded hut soon-- we've got orders in for both bricks and thatch, and supposedly the mason comes Sunday. We even have a spare mosquito net! So buy those plane tickets and fill your suitcase with parmesan cheese. We'll be waiting.