Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gold star

Where do I write to request my back-to-the-land merit badge? I deserve the highest marks in vegetarianism because yesterday I made tofu from scratch! Straight from soy beans! It turned out amazingly tofu-like, though it's a little too vinegary and I think with a few days of curing it will have a better texture.

I used the leftover soy pulp to make soysage, and that turned out pretty awesome too. We had it for breakfast.

Now that I've conquered tofu, it's finally time to tackle bread.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mailbag

I know I've been telling people they should stop sending packages closer to the date we leave Zambia, but I've incorporated the small deluge of Christmas packages (and I suspect a few more are on the way...) the booty from my trip home, and good lord it is a lot of goodies.

We are going to do our level best to knit all the yarn, drink all the Kool-Aid, cook up all the curries, read all the magazines, and eat all the Bacos. At current inventories, I think we can put our heart into it and win, but only if the pile shrinks and doesn't grow between now and April. (Of course, all this consuming may cause us to grow, but we'll worry about that another time.)

If you already sent a package, Thanks! If there's a package on your kitchen counter that you're dying to send, go ahead and do it! We'll share whatever we can't injest or use up and think good thoughts about you.

Of course, letters, pictures, comics and news clippings are always welcome!

(PS: Mom, this doesn't apply to you and the Oprahs. Keep 'em coming!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Road woes

The rain has forced us to abandon the swampy shortcut from our house to the Peace Corps house in favor of a longer, but paved, route.

Unfortunately, the pavement ends about two blocks away from our house, and while the road was never great, this wasn't much of a problem until the rains started. Monsoon-quantity rainfall has caused the hilly section of the road to split into crevasses that are at least a foot deep and getting wider every day. From the deep tire tracks, it's clear that somebody is at least attempting to drive up the road, which has the consistency of pottery-class clay, though it's hard to tell how they navigate it. I had to get off my bike yesterday at the top of the hill, when my mountain-bike tires slipped off the narrow strip I was riding on.

On my morning commute, I picked up the pavement in front of the fanciest hotel in town. Apparently the president is in town for Christmas, since this is his hometown. The hotel is on lockdown with its gate padlocked, and the building is ringed by police trucks and troops carrying machine guns. Outside, cops wearing white gloves direct traffic away and people cluster in anxious little groups, hoping for a glimpse.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Life, as usual

The internet is still intermittently wonky. The roof is leaking. The flies are abundant and multiplying. I made myself toss the remaining Christmas cookies before succumbing to a sugar coma. Dark clouds are rolling in. The workmen walked off the job because nobody would give them cigarettes.

Just another day in paradise, er Chipata.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas

Christmas wound up being a little anticlimactic for us, since we were headed to the Peace Corps house to hang out but got stuck in a thunderstorm, so we stood under a tree getting soaked for awhile, then dragged our soggy butts home.

Our morning highlight was opening the package from Heather in Boston, whose bounty included recent Vanity Fairs and what appears to be her kids' entire stash of Halloween candy (sorry kids!) (though I applaud Heather's commitment to making that excess of candy disappear! and I heart Reeses Pieces!) .

We also got to hang out with our other friends in the evening, and I passed a lot of Christmas crafty stuff on to my favorite nine-year-old, Essie (featured in the Malawi photos). This garnered an effusive thank-you note in which Essie offers to be my best friend forever, unless Treva will be crying, in which case she would be willing to serve as his best friend as well.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas eve

The big question at the Peace Corps house today: What do you use in a
recipe that calls for both butter and shortening when there's no
shortening? (Ahh, this is why I bought the Crisco in Lusaka! But we
don't have any at the PC house.)

We're going to try butter plus margarine and see what happens. We will
either end up with sugar cookies or a mess. Either way, hopefully it
will be delicious.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hello out there

Holiday Greetings to you all, especially those who may believe we
disappeared into the silence this week. Internet has been unusually
terrible and i may have destroyed my facebook account completely.
Sorry!

Despite the web absence we are just ok here. We've been enjoying all
the fritos and thin mints i hauled back from the land of plenty, plus
the christmas cheer arriving by zampost. Special thanks to michelle
and the book club, rebecca, tanya, kerrie, and heather in boston,
whose package we are saving for christmas day, in an unprecedented
display of self control.
It's surreal to play christmas music while angling in front of the fan
and chopping mango and fresh avocado for dinner, but we are managing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sandy

Trevor and Essie did manage to stay busy at Lake Malawi, by shifting all the sand around.

The lake images are from our trip there back in October, when it was crazy hot. I shot this picture around 6:30 a.m., shortly after we were stared awake by Essie standing in our bedroom door wearing her bikini, goggles, and water wings, and grinning in hopeful anticipation.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lake Malawi

Oh, Lake Malawi. You are so beautiful and yet so boring.

Home

After traveling since wednesday, i am finally completely home. A
letter i sent from the airport arrived at its destination before i
did!

It was great seeing Trevor and richard and another friend pulling up
at the airport. Also great: peeling off layers of warm clothes- It's
currently ninety degrees. And finding that all my luggage arrived.
Sadly, i accidentally melted chocolate on my phone, though It's
working well enough to send this message!

I was happy to be home in america and equally happy to come home to
Zambia. I feel pretty blessed by that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mr. Ngoma

Baldwin Ngoma used to be the night guard at the Peace Corps house, but now he's our gardener. He's very happy about this because it allows him to spend more time with his children and keep an eye on his family at night.

You probably already guessed how unusual it is for the average Zambian man to care about spending time with his children. This is one of the many reasons we all adore him.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reunited

I've made it as far as Johannesburg without incident, so things are on track for a mid-afternoon reunion with Trevor. I'm so excited I may not be able to eat breakfast, but since it's included with the hotel (overnight layover in Joburg) I'm gonna try!

I had always kind of mocked people for traveling with those U-shaped neck pillows, but since finding an abandoned one in Chipata, I've become a fan. Also essential: my own earphones. Theirs are painful after the third movie.

I am not a fan of Delta's vegetarian meals--usually ordering the veg option makes me the envy of my neighbors, but this time the food was depressingly lame (two stale rolls! steamed vegetables and plain rice! WTF Delta?), which was even more maddening considering the breakfast/snack they served to regular people was vegetarian already (pesto pizza)! Luckily, my seatmate the evangelical preacher gave me his.

Supposedly my bags are checked through to Lilongwe. In reality, this is giving the famously evil Joburg airport guys more time to paw through my stuff. I'm hoping that my low-tech anti-theft techniques worked: I wired every zipper shut with twisties and strategically placed bras and underpants at the top of every compartment.

Origami

I took a packet of origami paper to Marco's school and taught the kids how to make jumping frogs and boats that really floated (until they got too waterlogged, at which point they sank). Fun!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trevor report, the visual evidence

People are always asking me what Trevor does. One thing is teaching kids all over Chipata how important it is to grow trees, and how to go about it.

This is the tree nursery he started at Marco's school (aka the orphan school). The kids built little grass huts over the seedlings to protect them from the blazing sun while they got established.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Back to Zambia

Tomorrow I begin the journey back to Zambia that will take me 10,000 miles between Wednesday morning and Friday afternoon (if all goes well... last time it took nearly a week).

I stuffed my bags with snacks, Christmas presents, and about a zillion DVDs (thanks, Janet!). I've eaten tofurkey and Girl Scout cookies and drank a frightening amount of fountain soda with ice. I got to visit with my ailing grandmother, most likely for the last time. I even met one of the folks who will join our crazy little band of do-gooders in Zambia in February! Now it's time to get back to my job, my boyfriend, my yoga classes, my little house and, good lord willing, some warm weather.

Trevor

Traveling with Trevor takes me to some pretty amazing places. (For example...Mt. Mulanje!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tea, again

Looking through my Mt. Mulanje pictures, I think it's really funny that while half of them are of beautiful scenery, the other half are of us making tea.

Well, the bottom picture is also Trevor taping up his blistery feet.








Five universal truths of the church carry-in Christmas dinner, and a question

1. The evening will begin with an announcement that there is a car in the parking lot with its lights on.
2. Our table will be picked last to get food.
3. There will be jello salad with whipped cream and buckets of fried chicken.
4. During the program, at least one kid will be doing something goony and inappropriate (nose picking and/or eating, skirt lifting, etc).
5. Despite this, the dads will be universally falling asleep or videotaping, no matter how painfully terrible it is.

Question: Does anybody watch all this footage? People were taping the mildly painful 6th grade band concert last week, too. Is this why people have become reality show addicts? Maybe they're only comfortable living in front of a camera, and they figure nobody ever watches.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hut two three four

This is the first hut we stayed at on Mt. Mulanje, and the only one where we saw other white people.


So, so beautiful, made even more wonderful by the fact that the caretaker had carted up entire crates of Carlsberg beer. ("Warm?" my dad asked. Um, yes warm. You learn pretty quickly in Africa that warm beer is just ok.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snack break

About three seconds after I took this photo (during a snack break on Mt. Mulanje), Richard dropped the water bottle he's holding and it rolled quite a way down the mountain. Fortunately, Trevor was right there to grab it, and even more fortunately he did not go rolling down behind it, because people we were way the heck up in the air, like so far up that when I saw the trail stretching away from us on another hill I hyperventilated just a little worrying about how we were going to get there. (It turned out ok.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mt. Mulanje

OK so I lied about inserting photos into past posts. I'm not going to do that after all because I'm afraid nobody would go back and look at the pictures and they are awesome pictures, because it is an awesome place. And it is my blog and I can do what I want.

We drove to Mt. Mulanje in Richard's truck. It took a very long time. I passed lots of sandwiches from the back seat to the hungry men in the front.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Visual aid

Fast internet! Shareware! Free time!

All these things mean I'm going to start uploading photos from the past year of our experience. To make things orderly, I'm planning to wedge photos into previous entries, so check the archives for images if you'd like to see what it looks like in Zambia.

Well, this is what it looks like in Malawi-- a hut on Mt. Mulanje, to be exact. Tea time with Richard and Trevor! Sorry it's blurry, but I thought it captured the spirit of tea time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A few of my favorite things

-- My fabulous brother, who extracted the photos off my infected disc to that I'll soon be able to share them with you!

-- Silk egg nog!

-- Coffee date (at a real coffee shop (not Starbucks)!) with a friend.

-- Janet at Ninth Street Video (on Hitt), who provided me with movies I've been wanting to see. What a concept--- choosing what movie I want to see, instead of whatever action flick a random Chinese bootlegger decides to put on a DVD.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mercifully quick

Being home has meant getting sucked into the whirlwind that is my family. Today, that meant attending my niece's sixth grade band concert. Yes, these are children who have been playing their respective instruments for three whole months.

These are the moments that make me wish I was back in Africa. However, it is a credit to their band leader that the concert was a mere 15 minutes long. My mom and I stood around twice that long afterwards chatting up people we recognized, which seems about exactly how it should be.

Well, and if they had served complimentary tequila shots beforehand.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lu

On this trip to Americaland, I'm staying with my parents. When I arrived Wednesday, it wasn't safe to bring my dog from her temporary home at my brother's until after the wedding shower my mom was hosting Saturday afternoon (she hyperventilated when we made tracks in the carpet), but as soon as the coast was clear I grabbed Lulu.

In Zambia, dogs are for protection. Even at the Peace Corps house, where the staff is well used to the crazy ways of foreigners, Ester clucks at the way we talk to Sophie like a person and let her nap on the chairs. What would she say if she'd seen me last night, sleeping with a dog's head nestled in my armpit?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Trevor Report, Tanzania

He finally managed to find an internet cafe but complained it was so slow he didn't think the email was ever going to send, so here's all I know:

The train ride to Dar es Salaam was long and hot and (we were expecting 50 hours; I think it went longer because...) they hit an elephant and most likely killed it. When we took a train to New Orleans a few years ago, it hit a pickup truck. I'm thinking elephant might be worse, though it probably doesn't have a lawyer so maybe they just shove it to the side and carry on.

He promises more news when they get someplace with better internet. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Light

I'm not sure if it's a sign of my niece's intelligence or my own lack of maturity that has the two of us fawning over Twilight at the same time.

Sheepishness on my part notwithstanding, I was extremely proud of her tonight in the car when I asked her who she prefers, Edward or Jacob (having read, in the many pop-culture magazines abandoned at the Peace Corps house, that the question is this generation's version of Paul vs. John, Simon vs. Nick, etc). Her response? Emmett! Also, she likes Carlisle because "he's nice."

I really hope that as this 11-year-old cutie ages into her teens she keeps thinking for herself and going for the good guys.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mmmm

Besides visiting my grandma, I could easily spend the rest of my America time on food. I cruised through Sams chowing down on cheesecake and mini eclair samples, and had to take a deep breath in the coffee aisle at the grocery store. Oh, the choices!

Sadly, it seems as if prices have doubled since we left home last time. And packaging has changed-- trolling through my parents' pantry, I came dangerously close to accidentally snacking on a tantalizing-looking sack of dog treats.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mind

It's mind boggling to me that I'm sitting in my parents' house in Missouri and yesterday I was in Africa.

Honestly, I am so tired right now that I am boggled by many things, like Holy Crap is it cold here, and the toilets flush themselves, and there are 20 choices of soda at the gas station. Also, my grandma is so zonked out on morphine she couldn't even focus her eyes on my face.

Still, I got to see her, even if technically she couldn't see (or recognize) me. That's why I'm here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Change of plans

Trevor just got on a bus headed to catch the train to Zanzibar with our friends.

Me, I'm waiting for a ride to the airport to go home and see my very sick, very old grandma.

Sad to be missing a holiday with husband and friends; sad that grandma is fading away; so excited to see America friends and family that I could just about puke.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lusaka=


Meetings, real internet, pad thai, air conditioning. Wow, the big city.

We're here until Tuesday, when we head up to Zanzibar. Whoo!

[ETA photo of Trevor enjoying his free breakfast: note anti-malaria pill in foreground!]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy happy!

Happy Thanksgiving!

When I left the talent show last night, the turkey had just started thawing in the sink. If it's not still a cube of ice, and if the cat didn't maul it in the night, we'll have a proper Thanksgiving dinner some time!

Just like your great aunt, I'm bringing jello salad with fruit entombed in its wiggling depths. I don't even eat the stuff, but that's something I need to see on the table or else it just isn't Thanksgiving. I suspect that most volunteers will sneak into the kitchen at some point today to add their one special thing. We're happy to be here, but today we're all missing our own people.

Green bean casserole may be the next best thing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Talented

Seeing as how I had to coerce people into signing up for the Provincial Talent Show (highly coveted beds at a guesthouse if they agreed to perform), I was a bit afraid that the show itself might reflect its somewhat involuntary nature.

However, I seriously underestimated the burning urge PCVs have to unleash their creative spirit before an audience of their intoxicated peers. We had an amazing roster of singing, dancing, poetry, pirate jokes -- and even a Zam-specific demonstration of carrying massive amounts of water atop one's head without spilling a drop. Even the newbies braved the stage.

The winning act, a rewrite of that Alainis Morisette song that unlike the original used actual examples of irony, made me laugh so hard I cried-- a great way to spend an evening, for sure.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The art of delegating

I was a little nervous about turning over control of the provincial Thanksgiving dinner to a trio of volunteers, because even though I have absolutely no interest in planning or cooking, I do remain a steadfast control freak. (Something else I inherited from my mom. Thanks, Mom!)

However, I've been thrilled and even a little astonished at how well things have worked out so far. The PCVs planned carefully, set limits, budgeted, and collected more money than they thought they'd need. They even made an advance trip to the market to arrange for one of the seller ladies to travel to the border to buy all the vegetables they'd need and negotiated with her to throw in a substantial amount of freebies because they spent so much.

Even yesterday, they had set a dessert deadline and told people when the kitchen will close to go into Thankgiving mode. Of course, last night I read in the Thanksgiving issue of Better Homes and Gardens (thanks, Michelle!) that you're supposed to start thawing your turkey five days in advance, and I'm pretty sure ours (thanks, Lusaka staff!) is still in the freezer.

There are always a few little glitches, right?

Bag it

I never realized how essential plastic zip-top bags are to my daily life until I came to a place with limited plastic food storage and an abundance of creeping creatures that want at my leftovers.

Friends have generously mailed us enough baggies to hermetically seal everything we own, but just like in America, Trevor and I hoard the new ones and continue to scrub and reuse the same ratty few until they finally give up. They become odd little family heirlooms: that one giant bag with the red zipper!

If we're this sentimental about plastic bags, imagine how much other useless junk we have in our house.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ticket for an airplane

Another Only-in-Zambia moment today: the travel agent and airline don't take credit cards, so I'm walking over to the hardware store the travel agent operates out of (why not his actual travel agency, I do not know) with a sack of cash to purchase plane tickets for our upcoming train-up, fly-home trip to Zanzibar.

We chose the destination largely because anything that sounds so exotic has to be interesting, right? (This is also the reason we (ok, I) picked a grad school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, over Ohio. The method seems to work most of the time.)

A week from tomorrow, we board the train for the 50-hour trip to Tanzania. I know it seems like we're taking a lot of holidays lately (because we are). This is because we're using up our remaining vacation days before our PC-issued end-of-service travel ban begins in January. We're soaking up Southern Africa because pretty soon we'll be on a jet plane coming home.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mom

Today I'm sending out buckets and buckets of Happy Birthday wishes to my mom. I wish I was there in person to take her out to the Indian buffet for lunch, but it's her own darn fault that I'm not, because she's always encouraged me to travel far and wide and believe in myself and dream big and push myself to my greatest potential and never take no for an answer, and now look where it's gotten her? (And me.)

A zillion miles away and amazed with every single moment. Thanks, Mom.

(I owe you lunch.)

A tribute

Although I am a zillion miles away from home, I did celebrate my mom's birthday by indirectly paying tribute to her considerable skills as a hostess when we hosted friends for brunch. (Brunch! What idiot invented brunch? Too late for breakfast, too early for lunch!)

Anyway I was proud of myself for pulling off two quiches, spicy roasted potatoes, lemon poppyseed muffins, and fruit salad in a kitchen the size of an airplane restroom, with an oven that requires propping shut with a metal bar, and around the quirks of the Zambian electrical supply.

Sadly, I was completely put to shame later in the evening when we went to the house of some other friends, who cooked for five times more people, supplied a fridge full of beers and softies, held their party at a reasonable time of day, and (most impressively) projected movies on their living room wall.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mango season

Mangos have gone from being a coveted commodity to the zucchini of Chipata. When Richard came over for movie night, I caught him sneaking some into the bucket of them we already had.

I spent a good half hour this morning slicing up mangos to freeze, but of course didn't even make a discernible dent in the bucket. Mangos have a giant pit inside and produce a frustratingly small amount of edible pulp, and though you can suck more of it off the seed after slicing some away, this leaves annoying mango pulp strings caught between your teeth all day. Also I ate so many that I now have a bit of a belly ache that no doubt will continue until there is not another mango in sight because unfortunately I seem powerless to resist them.

Still, I love mango season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My purpose in life

I get carsick and my language skills are not even mediocre (especially in Nsenga, a language I have never studied but is commonly spoken in the southern part of Eastern Province), but I realized today that I do play an important role in visiting the sites we're developing for the volunteers who will arrive in February.

This morning I stood in the yard of one of the houses that's under construction, gazing out over the heads of every person assembled to discuss modifications we're asking them to make, and I realized that my job is to Be Big, so that we demonstrate to the teensy little villagers that they shouldn't build one of their hobbit houses for their forthcoming Enormous American.

Who knows? Maybe the volunteer will be a runt. But where I come from, I'm average.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cruising

The tape-adapter thingie I use to play my MP3 player in the PC cruiser is dead, so on our multi-hour drive down the province to visit some new sites, Clement and I listened our way through all the tapes I could find in the glove box.

Bob Marley went around several times before I finally had to switch to the Pixies. Clement listened politely until Black Francis had been screaming for quite a long time, at which point he asked me, "Is this rock and roll, or what?"

We were distracted by giant piles of mangos along the road. We stopped so I could buy a shopping bag full for the equivalent of 80 cents. When we got back in the car, Clement popped out the tape and tuned in his favorite radio station, which was playing the Muzak version of the love theme from Titanic. Honestly, that's one of those songs that makes you wonder: why do they even need a Muzak version?

Monday, November 16, 2009

600!

I wrote my 600th post this week. Woo!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekend

This weekend included a super-long bike ride in the blazing sun (Trevor and Richard) and some serious lounging by all of us at the weekend home of Richard's friend.

Many of the material comforts we enjoy in Americaland don't exist here, but there is an abundance of cheap labor. At home, the only time we get overtly "waited on" is at a restaurant. This guy's place was swarming with staff that made a fire for us to sit by, moved the chairs around when we wanted to shift from the sun into a shady spot, brought a thermos of tea and whisked away the empty cups afterward, and squatted down to receive instructions from the boss.

While it seems pretty luxurious to get waited on hand and foot, the three of us whiteys agreed later that it also made us squirm. It was kind of refreshing to come home and cook our own dinner, even though (as usual) I let Trevor wash the dishes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Go Coffee!

As regular blog readers know, for Trevor and me, a big quality-of-life
issue here in Zambia has been the search for decent coffee. There's
something so demoralizing about starting the day with a nasty little
cup of instant after having been spoiled by fragrant and delicious
beans.

It's only fitting that as we enter the final quarter of our time in
Zambia, we've finally sourced what may be the best coffee I've ever
had, in Americaland or elsewhere. It comes from northern Malawi and is
sold as a health drink-- in fact, the packing (which, inexplicably, is
adorned with a Nike swoosh) advises consumers not to drink it for
pleasure but to take advantage of its restorative properties, advice
we happily ignore as we sip much more of the brew than is probably
recommended. This is made easier by the fact that the beans come in
1kg (2.2 pound) sacks that invite overuse.

The best part of all for these two proud University of Missouri alumni
is that the coffee is named for its home region of Mzuzu.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Holy mother of invention

One of the unexpected benefits of living in Zambia is the way it forces you to solve problems with minimum resources and maximum creativity.

Because I wanted to avoid a return visit to the local veterinarian, who is afraid of dogs, this week I got my first practice in amateur animal medicine. Blood, pus and guts are normally things I avoid, but Sophie needed her stitches out and won't roll over and show her belly to just anybody. It took several days of chasing her around with fingernail clippers and disinfectant swabs, but I finally plucked out all 12 of the blue fishing-line stitches.

The experience left me feeling slightly nauseated but also pretty proud of myself. It turns out that MacGuyver veterinary care is surprisingly interesting and weirdly fun.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Change of season

While it is officially now the rainy season, it might be more telling to call it the Giant Insect Season. Since the rains have started, we've watched thousands of inswa (flying termites) swirl out of their holes in the dirt into the sky (people collect them in bowls to fry up: a seasonal delicacy!), we've become maniacal about taking our malaria pills against the hordes of mosquitos, and our house is swarming with 2-inch cockroaches, scorpion spiders, and black segmented millipedes bigger than gummy worms (and not as pretty).

Trevor collected a bunch of bugs in a plastic container for observation, then released them into the yard (well, the roach met a shoe pretty much immediately). Later, our visiting friend plucked that same (unwashed) container out of the sink to make a salad. It was the kind of moment where you wonder, should I say something and make her want to toss her cookies and/or salad? Or shut my big trap and tell the internets later?

She seemed to enjoy the salad. I didn't try it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spirit

I didn't even agonize over it this year, but just went ahead and bought myself a Christmas tree on the first day I saw them at the grocery store.

We're sitting here in shorts as the rainy season gets underway in all its 100-percent humidity and giant cockroachy glory, so I decided not to wait for the holiday spirit to arrive but put the darn thing up, festooned in a wimpy little strand of lights, tinsel I brought back from Americaland last year, paper flags and cocktail umbrellas Michelle sent, malaria test slides, and a bunch of styrofoam letters we deemed sufficiently festive.

It may be quirky, but it's beginning to look (a little) like Christmas.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back

Mt. Mulanje was spectacular and shredded the skin off my feet (note to self: no hiking in homemade socks!). More details (and photos, I hope!) to come.

The 6-day hike itself was miraculously uneventful (great weather, good food, excellent company, no injuries), and because nothing in Africa is ever easy, the drive home included:

-- a dead battery when we returned to Richard's truck
-- a region-wide diesel shortage that resulted in our buying fuel on the black market and later siphoning from the spare tank using garden hose and a 5-liter jug
-- a clogged fuel filter that Richard changed (in 10 minutes!) on the shoulder of the highway between Blantyre and Lilongwe
-- being buzzed off the road twice by the four-Hummer entourage of (we believe) President Dr. Bingu of Malawi (we passed them back when they stopped to pee beside the road)
-- a driving rainstorm that began just as I started my shift behind the wheel
-- a drunk guard at the border who required a little, uh, convincing to open the gate
-- eleven (count 'em: ELEVEN!) police checkpoints

Normally I'd be put out by the so-called hassles, but I welcomed any reason to extend the trip by a few more minutes, even if it meant standing by the truck watching diesel drip into a jug while rainstorm-hatched termites swirled into the dusk air.

It was that good.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Traveling companion

If you're planning a 6-day hike on Mt. Mulanje, I recommend that you take along an authentic Englishman, who can be counted upon to provide endless entertainment by talking funny, as well as to interrupt every afternoon's exhausting uphill slog by suggesting a proper tea break.

I've stopped on many a hiking trip for a handful of granola and gulps of water laced with powdered drink mix, but there's something utterly refreshing and civilized about waiting for the water to boil, respecting the alchemy of the tea leaves, adding the milk, and enjoying the scenery over a steaming mug.

It doesn't hurt that you get a thunderbolt of caffeinated energy to blast you along those last few miles.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Trekking

In one hour we head to Mt. Mulanje in southern Malawi. We'll be away for one glorious week. See you in November!

For family: If there's an emergency, call the PC office in Lusaka or Washington, and they can track us down.

Update: Sophie

Trevor and I spent the entire morning with Sophie at the vet, while she got fixed in a room that looked as sterile and equipped for surgery as my kitchen.

She was completely out of it for several hours after we brought her home in a taxi (the driver asked: "Is she vicious?" as Trevor carried her to the car, her head lolling). We put her on a blanket in the living room. She couldn't even pick up her head, but we could tell she was coming out of the sedative when her tail started thumping on the ground.

Oh, dogs.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Further adventures in trying to accomplish anything in a place where you just have to laugh/ cry

Further adventures in trying to accomplish anything in a place where you just have to laugh/ cry

We’ve been trying to get Sophie, the house guard dog, fixed for months, but the vet has been out of the sedative necessary for the operation. We considered taking her to a vet in Lusaka but dismissed this idea after she spazzed and peed herself during her one-minute car ride circa the move, so we asked the visiting medical officer to bring up the medicine when she came this week. (Meanwhile Sophie went into heat and was visited by every stray dog within pheromone distance.)

When Trevor went to set up the appointment and hand over the medicine, the vet told him, “Oh, we don’t need the medicine, we have it.” Apparently they got it a few weeks ago and didn’t think to tell us despite the fact that we have been pestering them for MONTHS and begging them to notify us. This is also the vet who’s afraid to touch dogs, so cross your fingers that Sophie makes it through the next few days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pizza pizza pizza!

One of the awesomest things about living in Chipata is being able to order fantastic, authentically Italian pizza and have it delivered right to our house. Only in Chipata would you call the pizza lady at 8 am to order dinner. For delivery directions? "You know Marco? Yeah, we live next to Marco." Ok!

We ordered two since we were having company, and it arrived more or less when she said, only in three boxes because she makes them so gigantic they won't fit into regular boxes. Also, they were delivered by her husband who ended up going next door to hang out with... Marco.

Even after being mauled by four hungry, pizza-starved humans, enough remained for breakfast this morning. Bonus!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Drunk & laughing

They say that PCVs from Africa go home drunk and laughing. We definitely drink more, and laughing seems the only appropriate response to so much of life here.

For example, yesterday we got a package slip from the post office, so I stopped by Mwape's window to pick it up. It turned out the slip was actually a receipt from a package Trevor sent last week, but we did have a package there wasn't a slip for. (It was from my parents, full of magazines, blueberry muffin mix, drink powder, Halloween candy. Woo family!)

Also I've been trying to buy a plane ticket, and when I talked to the travel agent yesterday he said he could book a ticket from Lilongwe to Dar es Salaam, but not the other way around. Huh?!?!?? I mean, you can argue, but laughing is probably saner.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Running

I hate running in Zambia. I'm going to keep doing it, because I need the exercise bad (even if I have started losing my appetite due to wormy shima way too much lately).

This morning, two ratty little boys started following me the minute I left our gate. "Madam! Madam!" I turned up the music, and after a block or so turned around and told them to go away. They did!

On my loop, I quickly backtracked when I reached the school swarming with kids in uniforms. Then, when I was about to start back down my own road, a pickup carrying about 20 jeering prisoners turned down it just in front of me. This motivated me to do an extra loop around the block in a different direction, and my anger made me run much faster than I would have otherwise. I'm glad for that, I guess.

Still, I'd rather run in anonymity, without company or commentary.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mood-ometer

After a concerned email from my mom, who is probably the most committed workaholic I ever met (even in retirement we have to schedule our lunch dates and phone calls because she's never home), I have come to realize my recent groaning may be out of proportion to my suffering.

In my defense, can I explain that (unfortunately) it's my nature to complain, there have been issues back home that have us concerned/preoccupied/preemptively grumpy, and it was Freaking Hot as Hades until two days ago. Also, I was staying up too late reading Twilight. That didn't help. (Even worse, the third and fourth books have gone missing from the PC house, so I'm dying of suspense.)

Things are just ok here. Simon continues to be awesome, Stella (the day guard) braided my hair so cool this afternoon that I'm sad I can't go out and show it off, and apparently broccoli is in season in South Africa because Shoprite had a pile of it, which we bought. Yeah, pretty much all of it. (When you don't see a vegetable for 18 months, you can lose control in the produce aisle.)

Anyway, all this to say that we are doing much better than this blog might have you believe. We even have another vacation soon (climbing Mt. Mulanje in Malawi!). The only thing that would make it better is to hear from you. Where is everybody?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A drop

The arrival of our new boss coincided with Chipata's first rain of the season, a 30-second shower in midafternoon that didn't drop much water but did lower the air temperature by at least 20 degrees. I actually had to get up in the night to put a blanket on the bed.

Suddenly, Zambia feels bearable again.

Traditionally, people say the first rain will fall on Independence Day, which comes Saturday. I'm hoping yesterday's drizzle was just a warmup for a real monsoon this weekend. Of course, the change in weather means everybody is coughing and sneezing again. And crews are coming around to spray some version of DDT (so we hear) in houses to keep down the malarial mosquitos whose population will explode when the rains start for real.

Still, it's cooler.

Monday, October 19, 2009

New boss

I had hoped that the arrival of my new boss, Simon, would mean I could hand over all my work and spend the next six months knitting, watching movies with the volunteers and making origami with orphans. At the very least, I hoped to never get into a cruiser again.

Sadly, he will not be doing all my work and I will still have to travel, but least he seems like a nice guy, and I'm not the only one who thinks so. Sophie spent all afternoon pressed to his side, nosing his hand for more petting. And unlike many Zambians I've met, Simon was not only not scared of her, he actually scratched her as if he likes dogs. Which makes me think the work could work out just fine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A confession

I went on a hat-making bender in September and it took awhile to get back into the sock-making groove. Thus, it's more than halfway through October and I'm just finishing the second of September's socks. (They're awesome socks, though-- hand-dyed yellow wool from Lea in Alabama.)

My record was perfect until now. Sheesh.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking the temperature

During last year's hot season, we wondered whether knowing that the temperature had reached triple digits made it feel hotter. We spent many afternoons watching our outdoor thermometer from the relative cool of our dark little hut.

I'm getting another opportunity to research the topic this week. Yesterday I peeled myself out of the Cruiser after an hour-long drive that left my entire back side (shoulders to ankles) soaking wet. (Disgusting, but I do welcome the cooling evaporative effect.) A teacher at the school we were visiting mentioned that it was 39 degrees (C), which didn't seem too nasty until I did a quick calculation on my cell phone and realized that was more than 100 degrees F. People, that is hot.

What made it feel truly miserable was knowing I was heading back to a hotel room with an air-tight mosquito net and no fan. (Cue violin music.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The best part

I am completely over driving for hours around the province in a hot, dusty, bumpy Land Cruiser to attend meetings in a language I only marginally understand. But yesterday...

Clement and I traveled out with two guys from the forestry office to hold a community meeting in a village that hasn't had a volunteer before. At first a few people gathered with us at the headman's house, but people kept wandering over until we were nearly 100, plus another twenty thousand or so kids. We gave the usual introductory talk about Peace Corps (no money, you have to build them a house, community integration, yadda yadda) and asked if they were still interested in hosting a volunteer.

Several people got up to give little speeches: how thrilled they were to be considered, hosting a foreigner will be a blessing, they are anxious to develop and learn. It was a very John F. Kennedy moment, filled with possibility and hope.

Now, if they will actually build the house like they promised, and if we can find them a volunteer who's decent and hardworking and likes children and doesn't get sick or decide to quit...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beach People

We are home from a much-needed mini vacation to Lake Malawi. Highlights included:

--playing card games with a 10-year-old who laughs like a windchime; didn't pout too much that she never got to watch Barbie Christmas; and stood in our doorway at 6 am wearing her bikini, goggles, and inflatable water wings, trying to stare us awake
--floating in the clear water beside a beach we had all to ourselves
--exploring a ghost town of a resort that looked like it had been abandoned by Gilligan and The Skipper, and that we also had to ourselves except for the random dude sleeping on the beach and the mini alligator living in a manky little swimming pool
--staying in a quirky old beach house that smelled like antique furniture and featured 40-year-old books in Afrikaans and a caretaker who grilled up the fish a guy on a bike brought by in the morning
--stopping in Lilongwe on the way back to stock up on Carlsburg Stout, good coffee (brand name: Mzuzu!), pretzals, and peanut sauce.

Trevor and I aren't that good at relaxing, and I have never considered myself a Beach Person, but I think we could vacation at Lake Malawi pretty much forever.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vacation!

This space will be blissfully blank for a few days, as Trevor and I are heading to Lake Malawi with a couple of friends for a much-needed long weekend and won't even have cell-phone internet, so we'll be well and truly unplugged. I packed sunscreen, books, and uno. Whee!!

Back Tuesday.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A rat update

Over lunch (they had meatballs but fed me a dish of pumpkin leaves that goes by the local name of chihuahua, which always makes me think of the Taco Bell dog, may he rest in peace), I told my colleagues about the giant rat. Clement says what I saw was actually a "cane cutter," a rat-like animal that eats grass and does not go into people's houses.

And, according to Clement, is delicious.

Run, run, run

I run because I need the exercise and because it's supposed to be relaxing. Alas, there's nothing relaxing about running past a smoldering heap of trash or people who stop to gawk or yell out helpful commentary like, "You are exercise!"

Also, this morning I saw something that seared itself into my brain for the entire outing. (Naturally, I'm going to share the image with you! Enjoy those cornflakes!) Some kids were throwing rocks at something in a tree. Meanwhile, the littler kid was holding, by its rope-like tail, a rat the length of his arm. It was the size of a cat. It had been living just outside my house.

I couldn't help but stare, and for the rest of the run I wondered about the fate of said rat. Lunch or dinner?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trevor's travels

Today I stayed at the office while Trevor rode the 30+ km out to the home villageof the PC house's night guard, Baldwin, who is the nicest man in Zambia and also the least scary guard I can possibly imagine, seeing as he can't weigh more than 90 pounds after a big lunch. And he is so tiny that when he tucks in his uniform shirt, the pockets disappear under his waistband.

Anyway, Baldwin wanted Trevor to meet his family so off they went. Our thermometer read 94 degrees when I made the morning coffee, so Trevor got good and cooked, especially on the way back, but he enjoyed some Zambian hospitality and terrified a few babies. Now that he's home, he's feeling especially grateful for the electricity powering our fan and a freezer full of ice cubes.

Besides bike rides, Trevor's big project this week is monitoring a sweet potato that started sprouting in our vegetable basket. It's in a pot of dirt on the dining room table where he's been measuring it twice a day and wants me to keep blog readers updated on its progress. Sadly, I don't know the HTML necessary to chart it out, so you'll just have to believe me when I say that besides finding a warehouse full of broken karaoke microphones, this is the biggest thrill we've had in awhile.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The other side

Ok, so It's not all paperwork and lines. After wrassling with excel
all morning I got to buy curtain fabric and chat with the guys at
modern bazaar and the post office. And i handed over the keys to the
old house, which was the easiest part of the move so far, since all
the inspecting guy did was check for broken windows, of which there
was one, a number he seemed to be pleasantly surprised by.

The craziest thing today? A big pile of discarded toy boxes outside
the fabric shop led me to a massive and broiling hot third floor
warehouse strewn with tons (literally: a cargo container load) of
reject american toys, selling for 50 pin per 50 kg bag if you pick
your own, 25 if you take your chances. Naturally, Trevor plans to be
there first thing tomorrow.

Job

My new job is such a contrast to being a regular PCV in Zambia, which is free-form and self directed. While it's also an emotional roller coaster of getting stood up for meetings contrasted with the occasional feeling that something good might happen, at least it doesn't involve filling out massive piles of government paperwork, wrangling with freaking spreadsheets, and standing in line at the water company.

On a good day, I get to visit a volunteer in the field or have a good chat with somebody at my house over dinner. But on many days, I feel like I'm back in America working for The Man. If I'm going to work for The Man, I want the paycheck, the coffee breaks, the gym membership, the fun lunch dates and the weekends to go with it, you know?

(Through it all, though, I have to say: Thank god for Trevor. Without him, I would have already lost what little sanity I have left.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Attitude adjustment

I am finding the biggest challenge of my new job is keeping a positive attitude. Sometimes when people hold this position, they end up somewhat bitter and frustrated. Since Trevor didn't want me to take the job in the first place (believing I would become bitter and frustrated), I'm trying really hard to prove that I can stay happy despite the challenges.

Unfortunately, it's not easy when I wake up to a co-worker text at 6:45, well before my first cup of coffee; arrive to find the PC house empty of people but full of dirty dishes, sticky tables, and a guard who needs to get a tooth pulled but can't call the guard company for a replacement or she'll get fired; get interrupted from a to-do list the length of my arm by a plumbing situation; and find out that stray dogs attacked the (in-heat) house dog last night. Among other things.

All I can say is thank god for Trevor. He's taken on the job of trying to get the dog fixed (which we hope to achieve after getting the necessary medicine sent up from Lusaka), along with lots of other little tasks that would make my head explode if I added them to my list. And he reminds me to keep a smile on my face, because dang it, I'm going to prove that I can.

(Am I positive, or just too stubborn to admit he could be right?)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Repeats

Because he is so good at chatting up random strangers (in this case, somebody he found while waiting for us to have a meeting at the Provincial Health Office last week), Trevor has found himself another new friend. This one is a former member of the Zambian national track team (event= 400 meters).

This morning (Saturday), they went out at 6 to run repeats up a big hill nearby. Sounds fun, huh? Tre came home grinning and with plans to do it again Monday. Meanwhile I was in bed sleeping off having stayed up too late for the third night running finishing Twilight, a book I found surprisingly entertaining given the near complete lack of plot and character development.

One entirely unexpected benefit of being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa is that we are really catching up on American pop culture. At home, Trevor and I fraternize near the edge of normal, what with not having cable and Trevor buying most of his music on vinyl at thrift stores. But now! I have opinions about Gray's Anatomy, Akon (though I still don't know how to spell it), Project Runway, and Twilight! Several years out of date, but still.

Also, I really really like the new Wilco album. It's still new, right?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mavuto (trouble)

If you are a friend who hasn't gotten any email from us lately, it could be because our computer/ internet has been acting funny ever since I tried to download a new anti-virus in Lusaka and ended up with a porn virus instead. Seriously, how the (*&$# did I manage that?

Anyway, we've been trying to figure it out but mostly we're emailing from the phone or the house computer lately, which has cramped our style. Sorry! We still love you. Really.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A mystery

Seriously, what is up with the puking? I have now lost count of the
number of times someone has gacked in my presence in this country. I
haven't seen this much of other people's body fluids since i taught
pre school, back when i still liked children.

I never made people barf in america, at least that i am aware. What's up?

Also today marks the first time i've been in a truck that killed
something. (Only a guinea hen that is now someone's dinner.) Let's
hope vehicular slaughter does not also become a trend.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

License

I finally have my official, plastic drivers license! I am legal to drive in any SADC country. Look out, Botswana!

How I got my license was: a German friend went to pick up his, and when he was looking through the big basket of them at the license office he saw mine and one for another friend, so he took them. Then he called us up and we met up at his house for beers and looking at each others' bad pictures. Also, my birthday is wrong but nobody (except the internets) needs to know that.

A beer party to celebrate getting our drivers licenses. Somehow it just seems right here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A public service announcement

I know some of you out there read this blog occasionally and think, Gee I ought to send Trevor and/or Lisa a letter sometime, and then you go refill your coffee (oh, the coffee) and forget all about it.

It's ok with us, but you should know that around January we're going to ask people to stop sending mail, since in May we're coming home! So if you want to avoid the terrible guilt of running into us at the farmers market after thinking you were going to send a letter (but never did) for two long years, get yourself to the post office soon. (International Priority Envelope! Relatively good deal!)

Is it a coincidence that Halloween candy will soon be on closeout? I think not.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A culinary mystery

What is it with my husband and pancakes? I could go the rest of my life without eating one, but to Trevor they're the pinnacle of weekend dining. At least it's easy to make him happy.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Home again, again

Our little convoy of cruisers arrived back in Chipata bearing nine new PCVs (lots of hangovers, but nobody puked!).

Now the fun + work begins: shopping for everything they need for the next two years (mattresses, forks, braziers for cooking, jerry cans for hauling water, mosquito coils), introducing them to their provincial counterparts, getting their bank accounts straightened out, and delivering them to their new houses.

Several current volunteers greeted us at the house with beers, chocolate chip cookies and a burrito feast featuring a giant bowl of guacamole. We're off to a good start.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Channels

The guesthouse where I stayed last night has two friendly striped kitties and tv with multiple channels.

Unfortunately, when I woke up at 6 this morning, those channels were showing: news presented in Chinese, a program about luxury cars, and a cartoon starring a pickle. And I was locked on the compound until 7:30.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two last trips

This afternoon Trevor and another volunteer and I went over to pick up a few last things from the old PC house: lemongrass, ornamental bushes, mulberry clippings, and most importantly the strawberries.

I had planned to just dig up a few of the strawberries, but the friendly (and totally deaf) guard from next door came over to help and he would not stop until every last plant was in our truck. It's probably just as well, since the yard will no doubt get trampled when workers start renovating the house. And we love strawberries.

Trevor took the opportunity to toss in a bunch of old chicken wire, rebar, and rocks. And we had to bring the trash pit ladder, which looks like the ladder you'd have in a swimming pool, because the pit at the new house is two meters deep and Ester always sees stuff at the bottom she wants to retrieve.

A clarification

To clarify: The Peace Corps house is the one that's moving. The serene, clean little house where Trevor and I live is staying just where it is, and it is definitely not the PC house, because although I enjoy the company of my fellow volunteers, I certainly do not want to live in what is basically a frat house/ youth hostel/ giant pile of abandoned magazines, phone chargers, and moldering food.

The move continues. Still working on little things, like getting a phone line. I stopped by the phone company yesterday to find out why they still haven't moved the line (they originally said last Wednesday). An hour after I left the office they called to say I needed to pay a fee that apparently didn't exist during my first three visits; could I come back and pay it? No, I could not.

What a wonderful opportunity to practice deep breathing and patience. Grrr.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Oh, the move.

I keep thinking we're done. Then the hot water heater explodes.

Since coming home, Trevor has been on a cleaning bender (it's what he does) that included washing the PC house dog (who, as you may recall, peed herself the other day). He managed to corral her during a rare moment when the water was on and got her all soaped up and clean. Then we all watched as she flung herself in freshly-dug dirt. (This is only because there is not yet a compost pile or trash pit to roll in.)

I know this behavior is a universal dog thing, but it pretty much sums up my relationship with Zambia at the moment.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Home with Trevor

I am thrilled to report that Trevor is home. (And for readers who persist in believing that the "I" of this blog is actually Trevor, please note that I am not speaking of myself in the third person-- I only do that on Facebook. I am me, and Trevor is Trevor. I am traveling with Trevor, though you are certainly welcome to join along.)

To celebrate his being home, we went out with friends. We have a social life! We ate pizza on a hill overlooking Chipata lights (surprisingly beautiful), watched kids frolic, petted a fat little dog, listened to a German guy sing Bruce Springsteen with a charmingly German accent, and got home ridiculously late (for us).

This morning my cold slammed me back into bed while Trevor worked in the garden, cleaned house and washed clothes. That's not the only reason I'm glad he's home, but it doesn't hurt.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pink

On the whole, Zambians are not complainers, don't suffer from road rage, and they like to pretend nobody ever uses cuss words (although they get pretty darned embarrassed when we say certain words related to certain body parts, so obviously somebody's using them).

So it was interesting this morning to observe Ester, the PC housekeeper, when she knocked a half gallon of pink paint onto the fresh tile. Any American would have said lots of angry cuss words, cried, and/or thrown a temper tantrum involving threats to quit or at least go home and drink tequila all afternoon.

Ester just made some general exclamations of frustration and spent the next hour quietly mopping up a lake of pink paint. Did I mention the water was out all day? When we stopped for lunch several hours later, she was covered in little splotches of pink paint, but just as cheerful as ever.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Zoned

In the past 24 hours, I have:
* gone to work for the day, leaving the door wide open
* left my keys in a completely unrelated door
* lost (and found) my cell phone in the truck
* banged into something with my shin hard enough that there's a bloody spot and a huge knot, yet I have no idea what I kicked

Trevor gets knocked out by tequila; apparently antihistimines are what make me a walking zombie. And yet there is no other way I can sleep through this cold. And with a thousand details still for the move (and nobody around to take over), I can't just not show up for my life like I usually would with a cold like this.

Wah! The good news is that Trevor gets home tomorrow night. Unfortunately for him, I plan to dump my problems in his lap and take to bed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Moving

We are at that part of the move where it seems like everything is done, until we drive back to the house and pack up One Last Load. Then another. When I left this afternoon, the driveway was full of bike parts, our emergency jerry cans of diesel, and a fly-covered sack of cow bones (for the dog) that had been sitting there most of the day, stinking.

Some logistical problems at the new house involving bunk beds and a door that's too small for our stove mean that we can't quite start unpacking yet. I did manage to find the box with utensils in it, so the helpers no longer must share The Spoon.

In other news, our pet lizard or salamander or whatever he is lost his tail this week. Where? Will we find a little withered nub when we're moving out of this place?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Move it, move it

When Trevor is away, I tend to eat crappy bachelorette dinners, like Popcorn. It just doesn't seem worth the effort to cook without an appreciative audience.

Also, moving is no fun without help. The PC house is in transit to a new house that seems smaller but at least has a bigger yard. Luckily for me, several of the most gung-ho volunteers have showed up to lift boxes into the refrigerated truck our landlord sent over, and to help shepherd our ferocious guard dog into the cruiser for the drive. Unfortunately, by the time we got out of the driveway, the ride had terrified the dog to the point she peed, so one of said volunteers walked her to the new house while another volunteer held her dinner bowl of cow bones the housekeeper had just finished boiling up.

Sadly for the new volunteers, all the (3) restaurants in town are closed on account of Ramadan. I would have invited them over, but 1. I didn't think of it in time, and 2. I'm too exhausted to cook anyway. Looks like a granola night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mayi anga amayanjana ndi kuweta nkhuku*

I am so darn spoiled in Chipata. I can make coffee in an instant, using my turbo-charged electric kettle, and check my email while it steeps in the French press.

Sadly, though, Trevor is away at a conference, I'm getting the cold that's been going around, and things are getting funky in the fridge because there's still not enough power to keep it on. Still, I feel pretty lucky at the moment.

*"My mother is lucky with rearing chickens." I found this in my English/Chichewa Dictionary under "lucky." Under friend, this proverb: "When the beard of your friend has caught fire, help in putting out the fire." (Mnzako akapsya ndevu mzimire.) I also like this completely random example: "The thief stole my possessions while I was playing the xylophone." (Mbala inaba katundu wanga pamene ndinkayimba mangolongolo.) Because we all know that playing the xylophone is a dangerous thing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Load shedding

After several weeks of consistent power and water, I've gotten spoiled, so yesterday's unexpected outage threw me for a loop. We learned late in the day that it was actually a scheduled outage from 7am until 6pm. Luckily we didn't wait to make dinner, because the lights didn't come back until 8, just when Trevor went outside to look at stars.

It's supposed to be out again today. In fact, I can tell we're already on low voltage, because the fridge is off. I'm trying to do all my power-related things while I can, which is why I pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven at 7am and have every rechargable device in the house plugged in.

A day without power is not such a big deal, except in the late afternoon when the sun is blazing down and all I want to do is bask in front of the fan and drop an ice cube in my glass, but then I hear my mom's voice in my head telling me, "Don't you dare open that fridge! You'll let all the cold air out!" And even though my mom is half a planet away, I don't open the fridge.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Glad to have a friend

For Trevor, the key to happiness is finding a friend who loves jumping on bikes and cruising out on aimless, multi-hour rambles. This would not be me, though I have been dragged grudgingly on many such rides, so I'm happy to report that Trevor has found his Bike Friend in Chipata. Richard is a British construction guy who rides a bike Frankensteined from spare parts and shares Trevor's enthusiasm for steep hills, African political history, and bacon (among other things).

You have no idea what a relief it is for me to no longer be the default bike-riding companion. As a bonus, Richard thinks he can fix the broken handle on our oven. And as a welding consultant, he's got the inside scoop on when the new grocery store and pizza joint will open up. And he bakes (amazing, healthy) bread in a homemade solar oven. I love this guy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bounty

Hippie cookbooks are the key to tackling the ever-changing array of vegetables in season here*. Unlike Americaland, where refrigerated trucks allow me to believe that avocados are always in season, things come and go here. (Sadly, fresh peas have gone. And although we keep stubbornly eating our lettuce, pretty soon even I will admit there's not enough mayo in the world to hide the bitterness of this aging crop.)

At home, I stick to a small roster of vegetable superstars. In Zambia, I have no choice but to branch out: what's for sale is what there is. There's no freezer case full of green beans and strawberries, no prewashed bags of spinach. This is why I've been scouring Laurel's Kitchen and the Encyclopedia of Country Living for help dealing with the eggplants currently dominating our market. Tonight: baba ganouj. Tomorrow: ratatouille.

I have to admit, it's pretty cool discovering how easy it is to make something so amazingly good. (I could eat baba ganouj three meals a day. Which I just might until something else takes eggplant's place.)

* Shout out to Lea and Grace, our hippie cookbook benefactors. Thanks!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shoprite special

The grocery store was closed in the middle of the afternoon yesterday because the guys from the power company were doing something in the road, and the generator wasn't on because everybody who knows how to run it had gone off to eat lunch. Such is Zambia.

This gave me a chance to mill around outside the store with everybody else, and I finally met the Irish priest who has a mission a ways north of here. This is another nice thing about being the only white people around; I figured he was Father Ned because he was an older-looking guy with messy hair. Imagine picking somebody out of a crowd in America based on that description.

Since we're packing up to move the PC house, I brought home an abandoned package of margarita mix. Paired with some (ridiculously expensive) tequila from Shoprite, I had my first real margarita in many, many months. Delicious. If I say I'm already looking forward to tonight's, does that mean I have a problem?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My pathetic addiction

I watched every single special feature, including Tim Gunn's episode-by-episode critique/ blog. I have milked season two completely dry. Auf wiedeshen for now, Project Runway.

Studying the box in anticipation of season three (the only other one I have), I just realized they name the finalists right on the package. So much for suspense.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Update

I now own a box of Zambian toothpicks, thanks to my generous and perceptive husband. (Who is currently in the bathroom choking on toothpaste. I think he will be ok.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Festivities, Part 2

This weekend is the big annual festival of the Chewa tribe. A few minutes ago, a giant helicopter landed a block away, which we assume is the president arriving ("or maybe Alex Trebek!" says Trevor). The arrival is a big deal here, considering we never even see contrails.

Everybody in Eastern Province is heading to the festival but us. We're staying home to have quiche and fruit salad with our fellow agoraphobes. And Trevor is currently filling the house with the smell of bacon. ("Mmm," he says. "Fried strips of pig.")

Meanwhile, we are containing our strong opinions about the fact that Zambia manages to have a presidential helicopter. Just yesterday at the BP station I had to wait for a gas pump while MPs push-started their giant military truck. Gives you a glimpse into the national priorities, huh?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Festivities

FYI: The testing of blueberry muffins is made much more festive by using a cocktail umbrella instead of a toothpick. Of course, I'm only using the umbrella because I don't currently own an actual toothpick. (That's not entirely true. I'm pretty sure I own several toothpicks, and they're squirreled away in one of the boxes in my parents' basement, too many time zones away to make it for this batch of muffins, though the muffin mix did, in fact, come from my parents' pantry, just upstairs from the toothpicks.)

We had our own little Friday Happy Hour tonight with homemade pizza and beer, with our pseudo-pet lizard or gecko or whatever he is watching us from his perch above the door. Whenever he sensed us looking at him, he'd yank his head back real fast and run behind the decorations on the ledge. Personally I prefer a bit more interaction from my pets, but for now this will have to do.

TGIF

During the first half of my Peace Corps service, it was hard to keep track of the days of the week since it never mattered much. However, after a week of driving around, trying to balance books, and returning phone calls, today I am thanking god it's Friday. I just wish there was a nice Happy Hour somewhere, with frosty margaritas and potato skins drowning in melted cheese.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

File under "How the Hell Did That Come Up?"

On our drive from Navaruli to Chadiza today, I found myself telling Clement that in America you can buy a clock that runs off a potato. His only question was, "An Irish potato?"

Last time we drove to Lusaka, we discussed how in America if you hit a deer you can keep it for the meat. What he found hard to imagine is that anybody might pass up this opportunity.

On the same drive, the subject of the South African man-ish Olympic runner came up, and I informed an incredulous Clement that it's actually possible for a person to have both male and female anatomy. Then I realized I should change the subject, so I did. Fast.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Trevor Report

Trevor returned today from a bike trip around the greater Chipata area, visiting several volunteers and meeting the new trainees.

One afternoon he hiked up a mountain/hill near Liz's site, and on the way back down the road to her village, he was walking behind two ladies chatting up a storm. Until one of them glanced back and saw Trevor; she dropped her basket of sweet potatoes and cucumbers and they ran screaming into the village.

When Trevor got back to Liz's place, Liz theorized they had been telling ghost stories involving muzungus, so seeing one on the road caused them a fright.

"It was a sobering experience," says Trevor, who is happy to be home. (Me too.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

More obsessing about food

During last week's trip to Lusaka, I managed to stuff my bag with lots of culinary goodness, like cheese tortellini and brown rice (no Crisco this time-- I'm on a health kick). A health food store has opened up, giving me unprecedented access to things like stevia and wheat gluten. The later is a key ingredient to one of the more bizarre un-meat things we used to eat in Americaland, vegetarian pepperoni. I bought a sack of it and now have a log of pepperoni roasting in the oven.

I continue to appreciate Chipata's range of fruits and vegetables. Though the produce counter at Shoprite would fit in your trunk, they do carry four different kinds of apples. And though the market continues to lack avocado, lately we've been blessed with butternut squash, fresh ginger, and eggplant.

Then there's the bag of chocolate chips in the pantry, crying out to become cookies.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trust the experts

My colleague and I had a flat on the way to pick up a bunch of PC trainees at 6 am. PC policy is to get a punctured tire fixed as soon as you change it so you'll always have a functioning spare, but I tried to talk Clement into driving up the road a ways to find a new one (instead of backtracking) so we wouldn't get behind schedule. He would hear nothing of it.

Since it was Sunday and the hardware stores were closed (you would think that filling stations would carry spare car parts; they don't), he headed back into Lusaka for a new tube while I went ahead in another truck.

The trip back to Lusaka was 40 minutes one way, so Clement should have been no more than two hours behind us, but it took him five hours to reach a volunteer we'd left waiting. They'd had another puncture.

Like celebrity deaths, punctures come in multiples. This is why PCVs should always carry snacks and knitting.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Busy busy

Sorry I haven't been around to update this week; I've been away from Trevor and so can't accurately report upon his goings and doings, other than what I have learned via SMS from his bicycling trip (after last weekend's knee-shredding tumble, should I be concerned that he texted to ask me to pick up more antibiotic ointment?). Also I have been busy in the land of high-speed internet, which of course leads to no good, specifically large orders on Amazon.com.

There was a sudden and dire illness in the cat of the people I'm staying with, so this evening we stopped by the vet hospital to check on him. The vet hospital is nicer by far than any of the people hospitals and clinics I've visited in Zambia. Not that I am surprised by this. Speaking of hospitals, I found out during this trip that the friend who got crunched by the truck with no brakes has been medically separated. He's better but still not well enough to come back to Zambia.

After the vet hospital, my hosts and I stopped by a wine and snacks party that featured little pastry puffs with melted cheese (I got to be friends with the guys lurking around the snack table with me) and a waiter who clearly was not briefed on how little wine you are supposed to pour into those ginormous wine glasses. I am not complaining but I do hope I didn't say anything too stupid to the embassy folks and other muckety mucks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Spoiler alert for a 5-year-old show!

Last night I was finishing the toe of August sock #2 while watching season 2 of Project Runway, when Santino mentioned being from Missouri. Of course I knew that by Googling him to find out where in Missouri, I would inevitably find out who won, but I couldn't resist. (St. Charles, and it was worth it because I was kind of stressed out thinking he might win, so I can watch the remaining episodes in peace, knowing he didn't!)

Having the August socks in the bag means only four pairs left to complete my goal of a pair a month in 2009. As the holidays draw closer (especially in the crafting world, this is late to start planning presents-- I sent a sack of them to America in July), I'm thinking that we need handknit Christmas stockings. Sadly, as the weather turns to fall in the homeland, it's starting to blaze up here, which doesn't exactly inspire holiday spirit. Still, I soldier on.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Psychic greetings

I'm sending birthday wishes through the atmosphere to my grandma, Wibbie, who celebrates 98 years on the planet earth today. I wish I could take her out for a hot ham and cheese sandwich (her favorite) or better yet, a big pile of candy (her real favorite).

With any luck, this time next year we'll celebrate 99 together.

Quote from the co-pilot

Trevor last night: "You smell like a garage sale. You know, the optimistic part when you first walk up to it."

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mailbag

The other day we got one of those rarest of Peace Corps treats: a completely unexpected package of awesomeness from an old friend (of Trevor's, since high school!).

The box was like a perfect mix tape, blending old favorites (Cracker Jacks! An entire St. Louis Post-Dispatch!) and snappy newness (hurricane mix! hippie necklaces! lime tea!). So far this week it's yielded two outstanding dinners, one featuring an entire bag of corn chips (alas, on the one day Chipata was out of avocados; we made do with salsa and refried beans). The foil-packed chickpeas came with a CD of Indian classical music, so it was almost like we were in a real restaurant.

Thanks Dave and Deborah! Trevor's writing you a real letter while I pick Oreos out of my teeth.

June socks


I couldn't resist posting June's installment. July is done, too, and half of August. With the blustery dead-of-winter weather, I even got to wear most of them at least once! (Note: It's really hard to take a good picture of your own feet. Who knew?)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fashion


Trend-setting in Kasempa.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Easy! Barber shop


Trevor would have lots of options for hairstyles... if he had hair. (His preferred cut is featured in the middle: the potato.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lundazi guesthouse

There are worse places to spend an entire day too sick to move. My Lundazi guesthouse featured:
-- a lime green satin bedspread with matching dust ruffle (maybe the second dust ruffle I've seen in all of Zambia; my mom would feel right at home)
-- an oversized teddybear wearing a miniature Christmas sweatshirt and a stocking cap emblazoned "1988"
-- no bathrobe, but complimentary flip-flops (though they call them "tropicals" here), one red and one green
-- a toilet with the seat and lid not attached (that was tricky when the sick part was going on)
-- not enough water pressure for an actual shower, so I bathed out of a waist-high spigot (also tricky; thank god for yoga)
-- a dining room TV blaring Malawian music videos that featured bad drum-beat mixes and simulated sex acts. Somehow I find it less shocking to see American-style barely-dressed teenagers gyrating than solidly-built African matrons dressed like they're off to church.

I feel much better now, though I may be scarred for life by the music videos.

Kasempa shopping mall


An enticing display of consumer goods, artfully arranged to get you to part with your hard-earned kwacha.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Safari


Our safari pictures are uniformly mediocre. For one thing, we have crappy little point-and-shoot cameras. Also, wild animals (besides elephants and giraffes) are adept at blending into their surroundings. Therefore, when we uploaded our shots from the trip, we spent a lot of time squinting at the images and trying to figure out what animal, if any, was lurking in the grass and bushes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

House

Speaking of how lucky I am to be home, anybody out there looking for a lovely little purple house to rent in the mid-Missouri area until next May? Our tenant just got accepted to school in another state. Two bedrooms, excellent neighbors, lots of flowers.

Road trip

Another morning spent on the worst road in zambia, so riddled with
giant potholes that people drive on the gravel next to the road
instead of what little tarmac is left.

That plus an hour of the cheeziest songs dolly parton ever recorded
and i was set to throw out, as our driver puts it. Then i got to watch
him eat a steak the size of my purse, something that would have
grossed me out even if i hadn't been a vegetarian.

Is this what they mean by "toughest job you'll ever love"? Today i'm
finding zambia tough to love.

Veg


We may be thirsty, but at least we're eating well. This is my haul from a recent trip to the vegetable market. I spent around $3 for all of it. (The falafel mix, alas, came in the mail from my mom.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lucky

It's a treat that I'm home today, because I thought I'd be on the road all week. Any extra day I get to spend in my own bed is a bonus.

If the power holds, I'll celebrate by baking some cookies for my poor wounded husband, who crashed his bike yesterday while we were riding around town. I was riding behind him (as always...) so I watched in horror as he careened down a hill and somersaulted into the dirt. I knew he was OK even before I reached the site of the accident, because he was laying in the road with his arms and legs up in the air like a dead bug, laughing and greeting all the Zambians riding past clucking "Solly, solly."

Luckily he was wearing his helmet (as always), was going relatively slowly, didn't hit any rocks with his body (just with his bike tire), and didn't get run over by any of the brake-less Zambians careening down the hill just behind us. Nothing broken, just a couple of grit-encrusted road rashes and shirt smeared orange with dirt.

Vacation adventure


On our visit to Northwest Province in July, we crossed a river. Trevor gracefully, me not so much. It was nice being someplace with water.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Artsy


This is one of the kids at Marco's orphan school that I made art with. He's modeling the paper bead necklace we made together.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Treat


If I posted these pictures already, forgive me. I think I forgot to put them up last time I had decent internet access. This is the treat we were served on a recent site visit. Not enough hot sauce on the planet to get me to sample that one, thanks.

Today's soundtrack

This morning, our neighbors with the big speakers are sharing tunes that include samples from the old song "Do they know it's Christmas?"

Trevor says the real question should be: Do they know when it's Christmas?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Travel report

Sorry for the absence; I've been on the road for a few days visiting sites that will soon be inhabited by the newbies.

Travel highlights:
-- Nobody yaked in the cruiser on this leg of the trip, though the cruiser smelled like it all week. Yay!

-- I've finally learned how to eat well on the road by carrying my own little packages of soy pieces to hand out at restaurants that offer only shima+ chicken or shima+ beef (this would be everyplace. Well, some places only have shima+ beef). They cook up my soy pieces with some shima and vegetables, and the whole shebang costs less than a buck.

-- Last night's hotel room had TV with two channels, so I got to watch Oprah interviewing Kirstie Alley a few months ago (scary) and the news delivered in Afrikaans (oddly amusing).

-- Many hours of community meetings have allowed me to complete August sock 1 and half of sock 2. I'm celebrating by working on a rug while home for a few days. Back on the road Monday.

Waiting for Water

Our water challenges continue, but we're getting used to it.

Lately it comes on for a few hours after we've gone to bed, so we've been leaving the shower turned on when we go to sleep. One of us gets up when we hear the splashing (usually after a lot of poking and insisting that the other person should get up). Then we fill our buckets, jerry cans, pitchers, and everything else that looks like it will hold water.

Since it has become a rare convergence for the water to be running and the power to be on when we want to shower, we've been taking bucket baths by heating hoarded water in the kettle. We've managed to stay relatively presentable, but I have to say that the hot running water in my hotel room last week was a treat. I spent way too much time in there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday roundup

-- The Cruiser Curse continues. I will be happy if I never get puked on (or near) for the rest of my life. That said, I am so happy I stashed a bunch of plastic bags in the rollbars.

-- I believe I have now experienced the worst road in all of Zambia (see above). Do I get a prize or something?

-- According the gardener, Ben, there was a genet in our yard looking for chickens to steal. Also, Trevor had been tracking a chameleon with no tail that's living in the house.

-- I had a funny insight while traveling on Zambia's worst road, but I think the potholes jarred it right out of my head. Dang!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sunday, Sunday

We had exactly the weekend I needed: slow and quiet. I think on Saturday, the farthest Trevor went from home was the compost pile. Sunday, we spent the afternoon hanging out with friends, drinking tea, and playing ping pong.

We've had no more than an hour or two of water a day for more than a week now, and the power was out all day Sunday. We had just finished dining on cold food by candlelight when the lights flicked back on, just in time for us to watch the third hour of The Aviator, which I bought at the grocery store in Missouri for 99 cents.

Tanned, rested, and ready: Bring on the new week!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Convenience

Halfway through mixing up a batch of bran muffins this morning, I realized I used the last egg yesterday. I walked next door to see if Marco had any. He didn't. So I grabbed my wallet and headed out the gate and a few doors down to Zambia's version of the convenience store, a little tuck shop in somebody's yard, built from sticks and plastic and stocking sugar, gum, matches, Jiggies (Zam-style cheese puffs), and other necessities. He had eggs; now we have muffins.

On my way back to the house, the bicycling vegetable man was headed up the street singing, "Lepu! Impwa!" I could have done all my shopping for the day within 10 meters of our gate, wearing my pajamas.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Garden report, new house

Last week the lettuce leaves were so tiny and fragile I felt guilty plucking them for a salad. But this week the plants are at the edge of producing so much we have to eat salads at every meal just to keep up. Luckily, last night we had a little help.

I didn't have any random vegetables to throw on top, so while rooting around the pantry for something to decorate the salads, I found this Japanese wasabi seaweed + sesame seed stuff meant for rice that I inherited when somebody COSed (thanks, Diana!). It added the perfect zing to the greens.

I'm a little worried about the garden's Chinese cabbage. The neighbors grow it, too, and it's getting to the point where there may not be enough people in Zambia to eat it all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guarding

This morning we invited Baldwin, the 90-pound night guard from the Peace Corps house, over to our house for coffee. When Trevor offered him a bowl of granola, I realized he had never seen cereal before, so I coached him on putting on some milk and eating it with a spoon.

Baldwin asked me to do a couple of things for the guards, one of which was to return his name to the house softies log. At some point, somebody left him off the sheet where people record how many Cokes they've taken from the house fridge, and he took this to mean he wasn't allowed to have them anymore. It kind of breaks my heart that it took months for him to work up the nerve to tell mention this.

We sent him home with a little baggie of Valentine's candy for his kids. He predicted it would make them jump up and down with happiness. That is something I would like to see.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Update

The bank was much quicker than I expected-- I didn't even have a chance to get out my magazine. This gave me the rest of the morning to eat cupcakes and hang out with the volunteers currently at the house.

After lunch, I cruised to the shops in our Land Cruiser, a vehicle approximately the size of a suburb, and terrorized bicyclists (not on purpose!) while navigating the narrow streets in search of bulk goods. Chipata's version of Sam's Club is a place called Kavalamungu. It feels like a Wild-West store to me. Everything is behind counters and stacked up to the ceiling. You tell the Indian guy what you want and he dispatches a Zambian dude to fetch it for you.

One of my purchases was 25 kgs of flour. Anybody who read Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a kid remembers Laura's mom sewing dresses out of the sacks. Sadly, our bulk goods come in crappy woven plastic bags that unravel the second you cut them.

Deep breathing

A sense of yogic calm is so helpful in Zambia.

Right now I'm drinking my second cup of coffee and mentally preparing myself to visit the bank to find out if the paperwork has been processed in Lusaka so I can access the funds PC advances to us in the provinces so we can do things like pay the water bill. I'll stuff a few magazines in my purse and probably wish for prescription anti-anxiety meds by the time the visit is over.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Better

In the village, Trevor struggled to get people to commit to any project. Here in town, he's juggling so many things that he has to constantly remind himself not to create more. Recently he met a volunteer with another organization who's working with the planning office and wants help teaching GIS mapping, so he has the chance to do work that's actually in his field of expertise.

We've also made friends here, besides other PCVs. Trevor has a squash date Wednesday. My Saturday yoga classes are jamming, and we've had several coffee and lunch dates.

We've gone from enduring to living. What a difference.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Time, time, time

Time itself is kinda meaningless in Zambia, but timing still matters. Folks eat the traditional maize meal paste, shima, with globs of cooked vegetables or meat. It takes us white people some practice before we manage to scoop up the last of the okra with the last handful of shima.

One goal of my anti-hoarding campaign is to subvert my usual tendency to save my special things for some mythical special occasion that often doesn't arrive before said special things dry up and rot. Instead, I want to force myself to use them up and enjoy them. I want us to skate out of Zambia on a wave of candy wrappers and the nubs of used-up colored pencils. I want to sip the last packet of Kool-Aid the day we fly out.

The friend who bequeathed me the yarn tried to time the end of her spices. By last weekend, she had run out of Mexican seasoning and salt. She bought one pin's worth (20 cents) of cooking oil in a plastic bag because she didn't need a whole bottle. Her final few days in the village were flavored with cinnamon and Wochestershire sauce. When she was at our house last weekend, gazing longingly into our pantry, I was tempted to offer her little baggies of garlic salt or cumin, but I know that part of the satisfaction is timing it exactly right.