Saturday, February 28, 2009


Daniel, who's been running Victor's store lately, is taking college courses from a school in the US. He just finished marketing and showed me the books for his current class: Freshman Composition! I've taught that class more times than I can count, and (except for grading mountains of essays) I always love it.

Ah, the hefty little book of grammar rules (misplaced modifiers! coordinating conjunctions!), the collection of classic essays (Hello, my friends! Annie Dillard! William Zinsser!), the packet of assignments (narrative! descriptive! persuasive!). Those familiar books make me homesick even more than a whiff of coconut suntan lotion or the taste of Twizzlers.

I told Daniel I'd help him with his homework. What I want to do is cozy up with that book of essays at the coffee shop.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Excitement at breakfast

We were feeding our new batch of guests scrambled eggs and delicious French press coffee when we heard something fall out of the tree and hit the tent where they had been sleeping.

It looked like a branch but when it reared up and grabbed a lizard, we realized it was a snake. We wanted to let it go but as most of the snakes around here are poisonous and we have visitors and pets sleeping in the yard, we decided to call the family for help. Elias is off building a coffin for a cousin so they sent the kids, who thwacked the snake with a stick and carried it away.

Good thing I had already had my first cup of coffee.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Money belt

One thing I noticed about the trainees is that a week after arriving in Zambia, they are, naturally, still in the money belt phase. I'm not sure when we went from "traveling" to "living," with the relaxation of various standards that accompany the shift. I do know that we introduced these folks as Visitors but told people our next batch of visitors Live Here.


The cycle continues: we just hosted the first site visit of the new batch of education and forestry trainees. Just one year ago, we were the ones wide-eyed and freaked out to wake up every morning in Zambia. It was fun to show them around and introduce them to such delicacies as Shake-Shake, the chunky corn alcohol that smells like upchuck but doesn't taste as good.

I was worried that the visitors might go hungry, but between our efforts and the neighbors', I think we fed them at least double what a human actually needs to survive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


We read online that milk won oscars. Sadly we missed almost all this
year's contenders. But yesterday a farmer we visited gave us a jug of
fresh milk. By morning it was chunky so i may try to make butter. From
researching in my country living books i think cheese requires
cultures i don't have. And non aluminum pans. If butter doesn't work,
at least the dogs will get a good snack. I'm sure ancient people made
cheese without supplies found on the internet but i don't know where
to find good bacteria. Though i suspect there is plenty of bacteria to
be had here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Our host family does not want us to move to chipata but if we do Elias
thinks we should take his youngest son with us, the main selling point
for this plan being that emmanuel does not urine the bed. So he says.
I have smelled the kids' sleeping room and somebody is doing something
funky in there.

Elias' suggestion is not as odd in zambia as it would be at home. Kids
here shift around in ways that mystify us. We still haven't figured
out where the seven year old who showed up around september came from.
And derisa recently went to live with a nurse while attending grade
nine. Somehow i doubt Trevor would sign off on taking a six year old
as a souvineer. But they don't sell records here so what else is he
supposed to collect?

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Taste like chicken, Trevor says. He was glad to eat them in the dark
because they are not pretty.

Very excited because we have visitors coming tomorrow. Maybe we will
feed them big bugs.

Year of the Sock

I have heard that announcing a goal makes you more likely to stick with it, so:

I've declared 2009 the Year of the Sock. I'm going to knit a pair for every month, partly inspired by a recent tour through my bulging sack of yarn stash that had me going, holy crap I'd better knit a LOT of socks before we leave Africa. January is done. I'm a half inch into the ribbing of sock two of this month's pair, and just realized the other day that February is shorter than most months so I'd better speed things up.

I was knitting while waiting for a meeting that didn't happen because the co-op chairperson had gone to town for three days (I knit for sanity, and boy does it help). The dude accompanying me while I waited asked if I had a machine for making socks. Um, doing it by hand is kind of the point of Doing It By Hand.

I've been using the same sock recipe for all five Zambia pairs and it just occurred to me to ask if any of you knitters out there have a favorite (easy!) sock pattern that I should know about. ?Anyone?

Friday, February 20, 2009


Now that the final expected Christmas package has arrived, it's probably time to take down the Christmas decorations. I'll miss the mini nativity scene and the tinsel and the cards with Curious George in a Santa hat, but it's time to move on.

Trevor had an excellent birthday. Mostly we celebrated by eating and drinking (so what else is new?). We started with leftover pizza from the brazier+ skillet experiment (best one yet!). Lunch was smoked salmon from America on crackers with cheese. Yowza! In the afternoon, Trevor finally located the elusive Guy Who Sells Castle Milk Stout. After he searches for a year, the guy appears on his birthday. Coincidence, or birthday miracle?

In the evening, the family called us over to see them cooking the Zambian gourmet delight of the day: stewed locusts the size of my thumb. Alas, we were too full of Trader Joe Indian food to sample any.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy Day!!

I've been many places with many people, but my man Trevor is by far the best companion I can imagine for my journey through life. I would go with him anywhere. Even a leaky, termite-munched , flies-in-the-outhouse hut in the middle of nowheresville Africa.

Happy birthday, friend.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The ride, part 2

I stopped by Victor's shop for a drink and talked to Daniel, who's been here running the shop for weeks. Daniel said the truck I was waiting for on Monday didn't even arrive in Chipata until after I'd given up and gone to bed. They left for Chadiza at 1 a.m.!! (Mind you, they're traveling on the bumpiest road on the planet, full of mudslides, gulleys, and potholes that are terrifying even in daylight.) So, so glad I chose sleep instead.

I'm waiting to go back to collect our mail. The post guy said to return at 2, but I've been stalling because I don't want to seem TOO EAGER, although it's making me chew off my arm. I remember feeling like this back when I dated. Waiting to call to avoid the appearance of desperation. I don't think it worked then, either.


Just a reminder that tomorrow is Trevor's birthday. I will try to position him near network so he can receive congratulatory phone calls, and I'm sure he will receive all psychic thoughts of good will. You could try email, too, just in case.

He's doing fine, by the way. He has started partnering up with a different NGO doing work that puts his considerable gray matter to good use. We'll be moving to Chipata to pursue said work more fully in the next month or so, so start using that Chipata mailing address, ok?


I finally made it back, around 3 yesterday afternoon (after waiting in the taxi since 7 a.m.).

Sadly, it's easy to bully people here, even Zambian men, so I bullied the taxi driver into refunding me 10 pin of the fare because he wasn't planning to drive me home (not that I had asked, but I did stupidly pay the white-lady rate, thinking that we would leave at a reasonable hour and maybe not as crowded as usual). I was grumpy and tired, but probably not as much as the guy who had spent the entire trip as the third person in the front seat, straddling the gear box with his arse on the emergency brake. We spent a lot of time between first and second gears (I couldn't help but notice), with several episodes of reverse.

Speaking of crazy African taxis, I also took TWO rides this weekend in which FOUR people shared the two bucket seats in front. Take that, HOV lane!

Monday, February 16, 2009


Yesterday i sat at the peace corps house more than twelve hours,
waiting for one of two promised rides to materialize. Knitted most of
a sock and watched half a season of grey's anatomy before giving up
around midnight to crawl into bed still wearing my clothes.

Today i got proactive and called julius the taxi driver, to whom i
have promised double what it cost to get here for a ride home. Now we
wait for the car to fill.

For evan

Because i don't have your email with me as i sit at icy spicy waiting
for my veg pie and i can't remember when you fly.

No need for music on the plane because the in.flight entertainment
system comes with a million music channels. But alas there is no
laptop plug. But lots of movies! And snacks!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A correction

My niece is eleven, not twelve. Thanks for pointing that out, mom.

Trevor's birthday is coming up thursday. Mom says they're mailing a
card tomorrow. If it makes it here on time it will be a postal
miracle. We're still getting christmas presents, so whatever.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I often feel like the star of a magazine feature: look, white people
are like us! When i was waiting for a taxi just now eating roast corn
a guy called out, you are eating! I have had it pointed out that i am
walking, exercising, shopping, knitting.

This morning in another taxi i was shocked myself when a fellow
passenger puked out the window. I thought wow, this road makes
Zambians sick too?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I had arranged to meet the ladies of chickalipo village today at noon
to teach crazy quilting, but either they forgot or didn't believe i
would come because when i showed up everyone was working on the new
pig pen. Anyway zambia meetings start two hours late minimum so i was
crazy early. But they unleashed the zambia hospitality on me. I ate
Shima and beans and okra, and a daughter escorted me home. I will show
up again next week, but much later. Unless i'm hungry.


Washing clothes has been on my to do list all week but it hasn't
stopped raining long enough until today. It has been too cold and wet
to bathe as well. One benefit is that dirty hair stays in a ponytail
better. And Trevor is not here to smell me, though i suspect he would
have told me about the big smudge of soot That's been on my face
probably all week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Run run run

This morning I dragged myself out of bed for a run and was rewarded by the completely unexpected sight of another runner.!! This is the first time I have ever seen another person running in Zambia, besides people who are clearly just In A Hurry and the kids who sometimes romp alongside me for a few yards, laughing hysterically.

This other runner looked burly. I speculated that he's a famous athlete in town visiting family, like I read about sometimes in Runners World. I was just happy that the two times we passed each other I was not taking a walk break.

I'm still running my way through the Terry Gross interviews. Today, Michael Caine and the poet Billy Collins. Terry fawned over Collins like a teenage girl. It was very un-Terry Gross.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anxiously awaiting

The next group of Zambia volunteers is in their last week of packing, preparing, saying goodbye to home, and generally freaking out. Even though it was a year ago for us, I remember that combination of excitement and terror all too well. If anybody out there reading this is in that group, don't worry! We have everything you need here and we can't wait to meet you!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the passage of time and how un-busy I am here compared to how much I flailed in America. It's so pervasive in American culture that even my 12-year-old niece emailed recently to complain about how busy she is. When I wrote to ask her why, she responded with one word: HOMEWORK!

I miss many things about home, but busyness stress is one thing I would gladly do without forever

Wheat paste

I had planned to stay home anyway, but the rain made the decision that much easier. I took advantage by whipping up a craft that's been on my to-do list for a long time: wheat paste.

The paste is flour, sugar and water, cooked into a gelatinous goo. To test it out, I made a sample pinata (which refuses to dry out) and pasted a couple of magazine pictures and a charming letter from one of my third-grade pen pals on the wall. I'm waiting to see if the paste attracts more bugs than we already host. If it doesn't create a disaster, I'll collage every empty surface. I figure I should take advantage of having a house where I can glue random crap all over the walls, right?

Monday, February 9, 2009


Not surprisingly, none of the dirt roads around here are signposted, so yesterday on my ride to Mangwe village, 22 km from home, I was flummoxed every time the road forked. The second time I took bad advice that led me down what turned out to be the wrong path, I remembered the cardinal rule of asking directions, which is: Never ask anybody under 20.

This rule was promptly broken when I finally arrived in Mangwe. After standing for a few minutes to marvel at the harmonies coming from the Catholic church, I stopped in at the first tuck shop and said I was looking for Helen Singogo. The shopkeeper called over a random 10-year-old strolling by with his friend, and they led me another kilometer through the village and behind the defunct tobacco factory, right up to Helen's door.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I just looked at my calendar and realized that it's nearly Valentine's Day. Naturally, this made me think about all the wonderful sweetness available in the USA around this time. (And every holiday; let's face it.)

If somebody wanted to pick up a bag of those conversation hearts on a post-Valentine's day closeout, they would find some very appreciative fans in Zambia.

I am not looking forward to a very sweet holiday here in Zambia-- not only are there no restaurants for a romantic night out, but Trevor will most likely still be en route from Lusaka. It will just be me and a couple of fleabag dogs. And no candy. Harumph.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

About the weather

I know i have moaned about the weather too much lately but can i gloat
a little now? When It's not pissing rain or drizzling the sky is clear
blue, It's eighty degrees with a clean breeze. Feels like missouri
late summer. I just want to stand with my face to the sun.

Also Trevor's dad sent his new running shoes crammed full of delights
like peanut butter pretzal clif bar - who knew?- and cheese crackers.
I hope Trevor gets home while There's still some left..


Trevor left this morning for a week in Lusaka. To combat the lonesome
and boredom of a Trevor free week, i plan to stay busy. I just rode to
town for mail and fetched the shoes he has been awaiting. Luckily
before he left, i extracted permission to paw through all packages for

Friday, February 6, 2009


Days like today make up for the many frustrating ones.

This morning I had a visit from Elizabeth of the Musalila Women's Cooperative. She showed me the zippered crazy-quilt bags they have made and embroidered like mad. They're lumpy, funky and gorgeous. The women are so excited about sewing that they've already started on more projects, completely without me.

I also handed off a crammed Columbia blue bag of donated yarn to a villager who is teaching fellow HIV-positive women to crochet to earn money. She is excited about the animal patterns.
When we meet next week, I'll pass off patterns to her. Thrills!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Blue bag

I've been thinking about how nutty it probably sounds that I am in love with city of Columbia blue recycling bags. But honestly, they're the best bags in the world. They were my friend on the Appalachian Trail and I love them even more in Africa.

When we did laundry the other day, we used one to pre-soak our sheets while we scrubbed the other clothes. I ask you, what wimpy plastic bag could hold up?

They're good for storage, too. We live in a house with no closets but an abundance of moisture and termites. Our extra blanket lives in a blue bag, tied tight and shoved under the bed. The yarn for the HIV-positive group has spent the past few months awaiting handoff snug and dry in yet another blue bag, despite being dripped on by one of the many roof leaks. I love the bags so much that I briefly considered giving away the yarn but keeping the bag, but I realized that would be obnoxious.

Maybe I should start a Facebook group and see if anybody else out there is a fan.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


This morning we washed a record amount of laundry. If the rain holds a
few more hours it may actually dry. I hope so, because last week's
clothes, which stayed wet most of the week, smell like old cheese.

As we hung up the clothes, Amai came home with her morning harvest, a
huge squirming pot of caterpillars the size of my toes. I fear we will
be invited over later to partake. I can understand why she would eat
them. I too am growing tired of the market's slim pickings of tomato,
okra, green beans. Every day.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Trevor received a birthday package (early!!) from his ex-step-mom Tanya. It was a wonderfully random assortment of things that show how well she knows us, including (among other things) coffee candy (I had forgotten how delicious that stuff is), pages from our hometown newspaper, giant plastic cups from one of the best pizza places on the planet, a PedNet t-shirt, sticky notes from the public library, a travel magazine from Minnesota that has me jonesing for the Boundary Waters.

We're like kids who are as excited about the cardboard box as the toy inside. One of my favorite items in Tanya's package was the recycling blue bag she wrapped everything in. Living in a grass-roofed house during the rainy season, we covet huge, thick plastic bag. Columbia makes the best ones. Thanks, Tanya!


I visited the cooperative ladies of Musalila yesterday. We put zippers
into the small bags we've been sewing for the last month. Since there
was a funeral nearby, only a small part of the group showed up. The
ladies who were there had identified who was best at each part of the
process (one is good with arranging patches, another loves sewing
flowers and is studying my embroidery book), so they promised to teach
the others and have finished bags to show me next week.

I am thrilled at how quickly and enthusiastically they've taken
ownership of the project. I feel like I could disappear and they would
carry on. This was my intention all along.

While we waited for everybody to show up, I showed a couple of the
ladies how to knit in the round. They noticed that one of my sets of
needles is made from wood. I could see the wheels turning-- hey, we
have wood! We could make these!

Next week I'm bringing my giant wooden crochet hooks that a guy in
another village made for me. We're going to try making rag rugs.