Monday, June 30, 2008


Since we’re on the subject of food, I might as well address the subject of booze. Trevor and I enjoy an evening cocktail as we’re starting up the fire for dinner. He found a bar in town that stocks Carlsberg from Malawi and trusts him to return the bottles.

I prefer a glass of wine. Shop Rite in Chipata sells decent boxed wine from South Africa, but it’s expensive and hard to transport to Chadiza, so I’ve been looking for a local alternative. I’ve tried several from Mozambique that range from tolerable to not even good enough to cook with. Mind you, I’m not picky. The other day we splurged on a bottle of white “crackling” wine the turned out to be carbonated. That seems a little too fancy for everyday drinking. I’ll keep looking.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Americans tend to overdo things, as evidenced by supersized fries, mcmansions, the SUVs driven by people who anticipate seeing a few inches of snow a year. But I appreciate every feature of the tricked-out mountain bikes Peace Corps bought for us.

As PCVs, we’re not allowed to drive cars or ride motorcycles, so bikes are the basis of our transportation. This is perfect for Trevor, who has been a bike freak since riding to Colorado from Missouri years ago. Me, I still pine for my Honda.

Our bikes are highly coveted among Zambians, who ride one-speed Chinese models that sound like stuck-wheel grocery carts being pushed across a bumpy parking lot. Zambians never joyride like we do; their welded rebar racks are always loaded with 50-kg sacks of mealie meal, charcoal, or paying customers, generally ladies with babies, suitcases, or both.

Our bikes are unique in this country, which makes it kind of unnecessary to lock them up around town. Stealing our red Treks would be like trying to make off with an ambulance, or the Weinermobile.

Still, we get asked longingly what we plan to do with them when we leave Zambia. Uh, give them back to PC so Admin doesn’t take the price out of our resettlement allowance. We’re going to need that money for a tank of gas.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Since receiving our shiny red bikes a few weeks ago, Trevor and I have put on serious miles on the gravel roads of Eastern province.

My regular commute to the boma involves 20 minutes on a road studded with potholes, oxcarts, goats, chickens, pigs, children playing soccer, washouts, and ladies walking to town balancing massive bundles on their heads.

We’ve also made several five-hour treks to and from Chipata, a ride most notable for a shortcut that follows a path through villages that seem impossibly remote and across a stream whose bridge is a giant felled tree. The last two times we have crossed, a herder has been there with his cows, singing to himself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Make hay

While we await the start of the rainy season around October or November, construction is booming. People are gathering grass to repair their roofs. Others form mud bricks to build houses and stores. The road crew has been working on our road. They were out there this morning with their hoes, chopping at grass in the ditch, presumably so the road won’t wash away once the rains come.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


One of the excellent things about shopping in Zambia is having access to European thrift castoffs. There's a lot of American stuff, too, but it's not as funky.
Much of what's offered in local markets still has markdown tags from Value Village and Goodwill. This morning, we bought a circa-1970 flowered fitted sheet and coveted a Holly Hobbie bedspread that could have come straight from the Midwestern canopy bed of any girl I grew up with.
Just for fun, we priced bales of rags. Trevor has always talked about opening a thrift store. Maybe in Zambia we'll finally do it!
The bales are sorted by category. You can buy women’s t-shirts, sweat suits, men’s blazers, children’s stuffed toys (today we saw a pile with one random Scooby Doo slipper mixed in), boxer shorts. All used, mind you. A 45-kg bundle ranges in price from 575,000 kwacha to more than a million.


We’ve hired a language tutor to help us stop forgetting what little we know of Chinyanja.
Art helps run the local adult literacy program that we have begun working with, so he seemed like a good person to advance our literacy.
Art spent last Friday morning going over a grade four textbook with us. We read a story about wild dogs ganging up on a lion. I understood about three percent of it until Art explained it, word by painstaking word.
Can it be truthfully called “adult literacy” if a grade four textbook is way, way over my head?
In town yesterday, I bought grade two. With lots more pictures, it is more my speed. Grade four I’ll work up to.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


In emails, people keep asking what they can send us. When they ask, I can never think of anything. This is very frustrating since there are a million things we crave, and since getting a package is the high point of any day.
Unfortunately, it seems impossible to send cheese, wi-fi, and friends through the mail.
That said, we would groove on coffee, powdered cheese mix things, coffee, powdered mashed potatoes, coffee, Bacos (the fake kind, not the real bacon kind), coffee, and magazines, as always. Also, I know I said to quit sending candy, but as I finish up a bag of Valentine’s Day conversation hearts, I have already started craving those candy-corn-style pumpkins you can only get at Halloween. So if there’s any holiday-specific candy floating around, send it to Zambia! And coffee.
We are rationing out the last of what Lea sent us a few weeks ago. Trevor actually recycled a batch of grounds the other day in an attempt to stretch out the precious grounds a little further. Isn't that sad? Doesn't it make you want to send us coffee?

Monday, June 16, 2008


It’s been a week of firsts. I had my first flat on the new bike. I made my first batch of village fudge. (Mixed reviews: Though it never solidified, perhaps because the sugar never dissolved, it was still sweet and chocolately, and that counts for a lot when you’re experiencing a cookie shortage.)
Then, I found my first tarantula in the house.
It was hiding out in a stack of books on the floor, looking way more like an animal than a bug.
I captured it in a cut-off two-liter bottle so Trevor could witness it when he got home. He was duly impressed.
Later, the carpenter tossed it over the fence, not quite far enough from the house in my opinion, but it’s not back. Yet.
Our host dad says he will apply some type of traditional medicine to keep the bugs out while we’re in Chipata this weekend. All the Americans we’ve asked say that while tarantulas bite, they aren’t poisonous. The Zambians, however, insist that the bite can kill you.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Monday was African Children’s Day, marking the date schoolchildren were gunned down in Soweto in the 1970s. Kids had the day off school and the Chadiza Basic School hosted a ceremony with Nyau dancing, poems, drumming, and two skinny Zambian teenagers in oversized sorority t-shirts lip-synching to rap music.
Since the head teacher told me the event started at 9 am, I showed up around noon. I was standing in the back of a crowd about five deep. Within less than five minutes, Sister Jeanette found me and led me through the crowd to a seat at the lace-covered head table, where I commenced to attract far more attention from the hundreds of spectators than the excellent choir performing a song about HIV prevention.
I had hoped to sneak away, but instead sat through about two hours of performances, such as girls around six years old doing what appeared to be a fertility dance and a dramatic poem that included a character dressed as death, dripping fake blood and reminding the audience repeatedly that condoms are not 100 percent effective.
Afterwards, the head teacher invited me to the lunch with the honored guests, where the offerings included goat, chicken and offals, plus nshima dispensed out of a (presumably clean) garbage can.
I took Tuesday off.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


we finally got our new bikes last week. This means we no longer share one, a huge improvement in our quality of life. We celebrated by riding them home from chipata, a five hour trek.
I have already had my first flat tire. I was prepared to fix it myself with my pc issued pump and patch kit but Zambian men can not abide a damsel in distress so several stopped to help. And to get a look at the highly coveted trek mountain bike, i suspect. A guy appropriately named gabriel got me back on the road.
A few days earlier we had another mishap when our approach caused a kid to steer his ox cart into a pothole. The hitch came loose and the ox ran into the ditch. We stopped along with several Zambians of course and got it fixed.
Luckily the bikes came with shiny new helmets too. Hazards abound. And opportunities.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Nature Report

Every night when I brush my teeth, I get to look at stars, including the dense swath of Milky Way I never knew I couldn’t see back home. Also, we get buzzed by bats when we sit on the hammock for our evening wine and sunset ritual. Rough life, I know.


There is no trash here except what is truly trash, but Trevor and I have still managed to start dumpster diving. We’ve started burning corn cobs for fuel, an endless supply of which our neighbors are chucking as they hull corn. Why they don’t save them for their own use, we don’t know, but we’ve been grabbing and hoarding them beforethey have a chance to burn them.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


A few years ago the New York Times magazine ran a great piece following a t-shirt from a New York thrift store to an African market. We have taken our place in that cycle, from the sacks I delivered to the Salvation Army during our move to the shirt I am wearing today. I bought it out of a pile on the street in Chipata for 1500 kwacha, about 40 cents. It had a thrift tag stapled on marking it down from a buck seventy nine. I washed it but it still smells like a thrift store. Trevor saw a guy in a shirt from Tuscaloosa, where we went to grad school. Soon we will see something we donated ourselves and will have to decide if we should buy it back.


We've been in zambia three months now. I have finally stopped patting the wall for a light switch every time I enter a darkened room.


My mom and Trevor's aunt are worried that he is starving.I am happy to report that we are eating very well. Last week in town we made real bagels, inspired by the Encyclopedia of Country Living. Tonight I plan to make cheesy cabbage using powder from Grace. Even now I am snacking on goldfish crackers. Butthis weekend we got the biggest thrill yet when we received a pound of coffee beans from Lea who used her Whole Foods discount. We both huffed the coffee bag. I actuallygot teary. I spent the rest of the weekend daydreaming about whole foods and their carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and little piped carrots on top.If any readers out there are fast food kleptos, throw a few packs of splenda into your next letter, ok? Ok thank you! Love lisa

Africa Freedom

Yesterday we went to town hoping to avail ourselves of electricity, but it was Africa Freedom Day so the school was closed. Back home, we hedged our bets and didn't fix lunch. Inevitably the call to shima came soon after. I ate my beans with the women and children as usual. In theory this helps with language. But yesterday I said nothing, just watched our host's sister hull corn by hand. The house is surrounded by sacks of grain but they hardly seem to have made a dent in the pile of corn.