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.