Saturday, March 28, 2009

To Lusaka

We made it here in good time, even though it took us four hitches from
chipata. We even abandoned one lift at a checkpoint when it became
obvious our whiteness had emboldened some cops in their shakedown of
our driver.

Even so we got here faster and easier than by bus, and were the first
customers at the indian place down the road from the folks We're
staying with. We had to restrain ourselves from eating the entire
Chutney tray. We counted (and petted) seven cats out front.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Tomorrow morning, Trevor and I are going to try our luck with hitching to Lusaka on the first leg of our journey to Cape Town. Our bags are packed, we have banana muffins, cheese sandwiches and Valentine candy to sustain us, and we're ready for adventure.

Seeing as how Cape Town has yoga and KFC, I'm guessing we'll be able to find internet. Still, who knows when we'll be able to update. So we'll see you in a few days or two weeks with lots of new stories.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Google earth

I have a techno-geek request for somebody out there with better internet access than mine. To assist us in learning our way around our new home and making a relatively accurate map, can somebody please print us out a few Google Earth views of Chipata, Zambia, and pop them in the mail?

Thank you in advance!

Big-city post office

Chadiza's post office is two guys in a one-room building. The year we lived there, they never managed to come up with a key to our box, though they tried to get us to pay for it several times, so whenever we wanted to check the mail we went inside and chatted for a few minutes. We had to make sure to ask if there were letters OR parcels, because it seemed they would only look for whatever we specifically requested.

Chipata's post office is huge. Today I took advantage of the relative emptiness to ask the guy at the package window if there was a problem with the Peace Corps box, since no package slips have shown up lately though many of the dozen people sharing the box have been expecting parcels.

It turns out there is a backlog of unlogged mail. A sunglass-wearing package underling showed up with THREE boxes for us, two from my mom and one from my pseudo-sister Heather. I am slightly ill from over-ingestion of conversation hearts and pop culture.

We paused on our way out to shuffle the load and for Trevor to snarf a meat pie. A guard took the opportunity to try and extract 5 pin from us for talk time. It's not easy to say no to somebody with a gun slung over his shoulder. I like to tell myself that they probably can't afford bullets.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Move over, Trevor

This morning I went back to the market, though I already had a full basket of vegetables at the house, because I knew they had eggplants and fresh peas.

I love, love, love, love, love the Chipata vegetable market. Love it.

Hunk o' burning garbage

Trevor and I couldn't scoop up all the ballast cast off by departing PCVs, so a good chunk of it went into the trash pit.

Bet you were wondering when they pick up the garbage here in Chipata, huh? Never. We tip the trash can into a hole behind the house. It's big enough for two coffins and has a ladder like you would use for climbing out of a swimming pool, though only the housekeeper uses that; the dog just climbs in on the trash itself and feasts.

Esther burns the trash when the hole gets fullish. Yesterday she lit it in the morning but since everything was damp, it smoldered all day, sending the smell of burning plastic drifting over our clothes drying on the line.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Home again

Ba Clement was scheduled to pick us up yesterday around 10. By 8, we had our crap packed and were sitting on the reed mat outside our empty hut, waiting. Perhaps not so patiently.

Zambian protocol requires lots of visiting and meetings, so by the time we stuffed our junk in the Land Cruiser, shook hands and said farewell at several offices, and cruised home by the less muddy and washed-out road (longer in kilometers but quicker in time), it was nearly dark.

We live in the big city now. Whoo-hoo!

The leaving group disgorged huge piles of junk, so we were welcomed to our new home with lots more groundscore. We'll move into our own wee house in May. Til then, we're couch surfing at the PC house, vacationing, and conferencing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Trash part two

Trash is a matter of perspective. Elizabeth from the coop stopped by
to talk jelly and sewing (now they're making table cloths too, be
still my heart) and noticed the huge pile of cans by the fence. We
have collected them all year not sure what to do with them since they
won't burn. We had planned to lug them to town. She wants them to
start tree seedlings in.

I told her to come back whenever to collect them. She said she would
return this afternoon because otherwise somebody might steal them.

Our host mom came by to supervise the packing and advised me to wrap
our tin cups in cloth so they will be comfortable for the ride to

Speaking of chipata, we were happy that nothing disappeared while we
were gone last week. Unless you count our outhouse, which appears to
have imploded due to its leaky roof plus monsoon rains. Glad i was
nowhere nearby when the floor caved in! Tomorrow It's flush plumbing
for us.

Friday, March 20, 2009


Among the things Trevor and I miss about America, friends and family are at the top of the list, but dumpster diving is right up there too.

Happily, I've managed to indulge my trash withdrawal here at the Peace Corps house, as there is a batch of people coming through who are finishing their service and cleaning out all the crap they no longer want. I've salvaged t-shirts, pajamas, and the best score yet: a bunch of awesome funky Chinese food from Diana.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's come to this

I like to travel light. Also, I forget things. Thus, this morning I combed my hair with a plastic fork.

It works pretty well, in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cool things

This guesthouse is right across the street from one of Chipata's mosques, so every few hours the air fills with the ethereal sound of the call to prayers.

Also, the bartender remembered my asking for a Coke Light at tea break yesterday (they usually serve Sprite, regular Coke, an Fanta in both grape and orange; all bottles) and today sent a kitchen guy to fetch one just for me. Sweet! And last night the staff heated up leftovers for those of us too cheap to go out to eat.


Having lived in a malarial hotspot for over a year now, I have developed a strong preference for the type of mosquito net that hangs from four corners, like the ruffled canopies on the bed some of my childhood friends had (and I coveted).

Guesthouses seem to universally prefer the one-hook variety that radiate from a central ring. These are annoying because no matter how much you try to stuff the sides under the edges of your mattress, invariably the net (which invariably smells like secondhand hats) ends up sagging in your face or draped across your feet, allowing mosquitoes access to your delicious blood. It's like trying to pitch a non-freestanding tent in sand.

Still, our room here in the guesthouse has a fan, which whisks away the possibility of mold, whereas our hut in the village has mud walls reeking and rotting from being saturated with months of constant rain. And the beasties chowing on our roof beams and thatch shower a constant dusting of who-knows-what funkiness on our bed.

I am appreciating the relative luxury; I can live with a few more bites.

Monday, March 16, 2009

High point

The highest point of the day was finishing sock number one of the March pair. It's only the 16th, and I have three more long workshop days stretching out before me in which to finish sock two, which already has a half inch of ribbing from the afternoon.

The second high point of the day was holding the cutest, squishiest little Zambian boy I have ever seen, who was only a little soggy.

The third high point: an exercise in which I successfully translated a phrase for a somewhat unusual romantic act (this is an HIV workshop, so you can probably successfully use your imagination) into Chewa. (I would write it here, but god knows what web crazies that would attract.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009


OK I'm better now. It helps that we're in Chipata for a conference, and since the Peace Corps house is beyond capacity, Trevor and I are staying at a hotel instead. It's clean, electrified, quiet. Bliss.

I should explain that behind my mood the other day was partly hidden sadness, in addition to anger and frustration. Last week my friend Hilda's little boy drowned in a well. Hilda is a volunteer literacy tutor in Chadiza. A month or so ago, the other tutor, Kistry (the one who taught me to make cowpea sausages), died too.

Zambians have a system for coping emotionally -- the ritual wailing, three days of funerals. They feel it and move on. I have a harder time dealing with it. Less practice, for one thing.

Friday, March 13, 2009


For breakfast, we ate egg sandwiches with crunchy soy pieces (I didn't rehydrate them quite enough) and tomato slices that were almost as icky as American winter tomatoes, to the accompanying sounds of our family and some other guys loading a cow onto a flatbed truck headed to Zambeef to get carved up.

Yesterday at breakfast we discovered that the household children had been rifling through our dirty dishes to steal our spoons. (Mom found the missing spoons among the kids' stuff.) I thought there was just a silverware black hole in Chadiza, because we "lost" an entire set of forks and knives already.

Since we returned from Chipata last week, every article of clothing in our house has an inch-long bagworm attached to it. The other day I picked one off the seat of Trevor's shorts.

I am ready to move.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I am finally secure enough in my belief that we will survive in Zambia that I no longer have the desperate urge to ask people to send us food, coffee, Oprah magazines, and other necessities of life. Maybe it's just because we have a sufficient reserve of taco seasoning, or maybe I finally trust that even though what's available here is different (OK, I'll admit it: in some ways lacking), it's plenty.

So I don't need anybody to send us Gray's Anatomy DVDs or Girl Scout cookies. But if they did, I wouldn't complain. Whatever is the opposite of complaining, that's what I would do.

PS: Happy Youth Day! It's another holiday in Zambia (Women's Day was Monday). Which means, for us, no *$&#^*&#! mail. Again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


The snowman Peeps were the first clue. Lea is usually more freshness-sensitive than, say, my mom, from whom I fully expect to receive last year's leftover Halloween chocolate only when she cleans out the candy bowl in preparation for Easter.

Also, the letter mentioned voting. For president.

So I finally checked the postmark on the package that arrived yesterday. It was mailed in November!

While I offer kudos to the world's postal efforts in getting this package halfway around the planet, I do have to wonder if the envelope spent a few months on a desert island or in a time warp.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Last week I took our visitors on a field trip to meet the Musalila Women's Coop ladies.I was worried nobody would show up and we would have slogged through muddy fields and through a creek for nothing, but those ladies did me proud.

They were already assembled when we arrived (a first!), and had displayed their patchwork bags and about a dozen floor mats they've crocheted.

I had just showed them the basics of crocheting strips of rags using the wood hooks a guy carved for me. From that scrap of information, the Musalila ladies have carved a bunch more hooks and created rugs that would take a prize at the state fair. They took some samples into Chadiza and took orders for a bunch more.

My friends and I each bought a mat, and Elizabeth stopped by Sunday to say the group had used our money to buy (and already plant!) beans, which they'll sell in a few months. They'll use that money to buy more fabric. The men in the group are so impressed with their income that they asked the ladies to teach them something they can do to earn some, too.


Monday, March 9, 2009


I never thought much about ticks until I started picking them off the dogs by the dozen. The Belgian lady currently living in our future home is in Zambia collecting ticks for research. Imagine trying to clear customs with a suitcase jammed with ticks! (She says she will ship them separately. I still like to picture the scene at customs.)

Different types of ticks must have different seasons. Earlier we found a lot of fatties that congregated on the dogs' backs, but lately it's tiny ones in their ears. You have to be really quick to tweeze those suckers. Happily for us, none of the ticks seem to enjoy humans. Mosquitoes, on the other hand, have been dining on us like crazy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Listening to the serene Irish priest recite the holy mysteries on Radio Maria has prompted me to meditate on my own private mystery: Why is it that I often end the afternoon exuding a faint odor of hot buttered popcorn?

Friday, March 6, 2009


Well, I certainly freaked out too soon on the house thing. We decided to take the first place we looked at yesterday, though we looked at five more just to make sure. They were all ridiculously huge (five bedrooms!) with daunting yards, no security, no appliances and at the far edge of our price range.

Our new place is a tiny (bedroom, sitting room) guesthouse but comes with a shower that provides hot water! An indoor flush toilet! A fridge! Lights! The yard looks like a park. It reminds me of the Strode cabin where we lived in grad school, only without a cool/kooky poet living in the main house.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Now that we've seen off the last of our visitors, we're in Chipata looking for a house to move into at the end of the month.

In America, this would be a straightforward process of visiting a rental agent and setting up appointments. We could probably sign a lease by dinnertime. Here, house hunting requires talking to everybody we meet (mostly Indian shop owners) and asking if they know of anyplace, and if that place is in an area of town that PC will approve but small enough that we can afford it. Honestly, it's maddening, and thank god for Trevor because I'm coming down with a cold and this just makes me even more exhausted.

I imagine this is how American job hunters are feeling right now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


This morning Trevor and our visitor Andy took off on bikes to Chipata around 5:30. Havaca, Ashlee and I got picked up in a taxi around 6. As usual, the first stop was to buy just enough gas to get to Chipata. We stopped at the gas station-- itself a first, as for our first year in the village, the gas station didn't have gas; instead, drivers bought fuel from a guy behind a bar.

Alas, the power was out, so the pumps wouldn't pump. We sat for about an hour, waiting for the power to come back. Hava and I walked to the market for fritters. I ripped out the ribbing of my March sock and started again. Finally, a guy showed up with a plastic jug of gas, and we were off.

We passed the guys on their bikes about 10 minutes outside of town. We had just enough time to take hot showers before they arrived.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I grafted the toe of the second February sock Saturday afternoon. Just under the wire!

I've already cast on March. They are manly-looking greens and browns and purples using yarn magically created from corn fibers, sent by Lea in Alabama. I'm making them for Trevor-- my first pair of socks for somebody else-- but thinking of Lea as I knit.