Thursday, April 30, 2009


Is such a tricky thing. Is it just a matter of making the whole world the same?

I spent Tuesday night in Petauke after helping post two volunteers there. The guesthouse was decent, by Zambia standards. I had a sink, a (bare) lightbulb and an intact mosquito net. At breakfast, I marveled that the dining room was furnished with the same chairs you'd find at any budget motel or conference room in America. Which got me ruminating about what exactly it means that Zambia is becoming more "developed." Chain restaurants on every corner? Will Zambia be developed when it no longer has a shred of its own traditions and culture? Already every kid is dressed in a 101 Dalmations or Manchester United t-shirt.

One thing that's not developed is the road to Chadiza. We posted the new kid to our friend Koh's old village. By the end of the drive back, I felt like my skull was rattling loose. The last of the rainy season washed every remaining speck of dirt away, so many sections of the road are big loose rock. Peace Corps Land Cruisers are the bare-bones models that apparently don't come with shocks. Ow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


We head to Lusaka tomorrow for a couple of week-long meetings, and when we return we'll move into our new house. The new place doesn't have a stove, so we've been looking at options that are all painfully expensive. I had resigned myself to spending a crazy amount of money until the other day when Trevor was chatting up some missionaries who are headed back to Canada next week. I seized the opportunity to see if they were selling their stove. They were! They did! To us! We are the proud owners of a third-hand, German made, four-burner stove with an oven door that needs help staying shut. The owners threw in a collection of muffin tins and cake pans.

As a bonus, they used to live in the house we're moving into, so they know the landlord. And they have a van, so they agreed to deliver the stove over there for us. It will be waiting when we return from Lusaka. My mom is sending a mozzarella kit I ordered online, so I predict that the second half of 2009 will be known as the (Half) Year of the Pizza.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Today is a big day in peace corps life. We are dropping off new
volunteers in their villages where they will live for two years.

It's a big day for me too because it begins my on the job training.
Next posting cycle i will be the one running this show as the eastern
province volunteer leader. Frankly i find it overwhelming but i guess
I'll figure it all out. The crazy part is when we cruise down paths
seemingly unpassable by car to villages way out in the bush. And drop
people off for two years. I like being the one climbing back in the
cruiser to blast a bee gees tape.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I grew up with plumbing, so I took toilets for granted until I hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Here in Zambia, porcelain furniture is rare. Tissue is even more unusual. Therefore, I wasn't all that surprised yesterday by the uproar among the teacher training participants. Apparently some of them have had trouble operating the commodes and have been using plastic sacks instead of tissue. There has been a lot of discussion about educating people not to stand on the rim of the toilet. I get the impression that there's a bit of class-warring going on among people who have used toilets extensively and village folks who saw their first one this week.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My Dinner with the Ambassador (sort of)

Dinner was excellent, though it wasn't an ambassador but the chief of mission or something. He was quite nice and we had lasagna, only with no noodles but mashed potatoes. Whatever, it had melted cheese on top so I'm not complaining.

Also in attendance was an administrative assistant from Oklahoma! And the CDC head in Zambia, who finally helped me figure out what happened last year when I had a mysterious and extremely scary brief illness, a blister on my eyeball. I don't even think I blogged about it because I was too freaked out. At the time nobody had any clue what had happened, but apparently I rubbed my eye after unknowingly touching a "blister beetle," and it's pretty common and scary but ultimately harmless, at least according to somebody who seems to know a lot about these things.

The deputy guy was supposed to meet with our friend Sydney this afternoon, but since his schedule of official visits and speeches and photo opportunities was rearranged, he had to cancel. So he gave us the treats they had brought for her, Double Stuff Oreo cookies. !!!

I should probably feel guilty.

Sorry, but I have to mention this

I know some readers are over the whole sock update, but 2009 is the year of the sock, so you're going to have to endure the occasional sock at least until December.

I finished the first sock of the May pair during the teacher training today! It took our students until I started the toe decrease to figure out what I was making.

I realize that calendar purists might say I'm cheating by beginning the May socks while it's still, in fact, April. In my defense, since we're moving, all our crap is packed in bags and crammed atop a bunk bed, so it would be hard to dig out any other yarn right now. Plus this stuff was too gorgeous to wait (thanks, Lea!).

OK, sock report finished for now! (Trevor's fine, by the way. The newly sworn-in volunteers arrived today and he's already made a new best friend-- last time I looked, they were digging in the compost for avocado tree seedlings and drinking Castle beers.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Millions, followup

This afternoon, the accountant paid me in a stack of twenties (twenty thousand kwacha, about $4) so thick it wouldn't fold in half. Yeah, baby!

Also, tonight we're having dinner with the deputy ambassador, who's in town to check up on some projects and wants to meet with some Real Live Peace Corps Volunteers. Suddenly I'm feeling very swanky. Better go comb my hair.


This week's teacher training is giving me a deep understanding of how
flawed education is in zambia and how that contributes to lack of
development and poverty here. Critical thinking is not only not
encouraged but actively discouraged. My students would rather eat
their pencils than speak aloud if there is any chance they could be
wrong. I taught them to play hangman but they refused to guess words.

My fellow teachers are no better. We are ahead of schedule but instead
of moving subjects around they want to stall until we are back on
time. They are terrified of getting in trouble though we are the ones
who created the schedule ourselves.

I have gotten in a lot of trouble in my life for my irreverence. And i
have taught plenty of students who are not shy speaking their minds no
matter how little there may be contained there. Ultimately i think the
happy balance is closer to loud mouth innovation than scared silence.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


The biggest bill in zambia is the 50000 kwacha note, currently worth
less than ten dollars. The ngo accountant has come from Lusaka to pay
travel money and allowances. He walks around with a briefcase full of
rubber banded stacks of bills looking like a gangster santa claus.

I enjoy being a millionaire, even if It's only temporary.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Day two of the teacher training in full swing. I have no topic to
present today so i'm just here being supportive, soaking up the heat
from this tin.roofed classroom and the smell of thirty warm and
seemingly unwashed humans. That plus the queasy factor from drinking a
warm sprite and i'm barely hanging on.

Lord help me. It's only tuesday.

Trevor is busy being the housewife. I left him a grocery list but i
know him well enough to know there is no telling what he will actually
buy. Yesterday he came home with eggs and earrings.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I love it when people here tell me I'm smart, even though I know they mean that I look cleaner and/or more well-pressed than usual, rather than intelligent. (It's a British thing. They call the car's trunk the "boot" too.)

I'm the only Peace Corps volunteer who was able to attend the teacher training this time. Since I'm not mummified in the protective cluster of PCVs, my fellow teachers have been much freer with their knitting advice. Plus, with no whiteys to share my snacks with, I introduced Ceceila and Sarah to conversation hearts from Valentine's day. Words on sweeties! They had never seen anything so hilarious.

[One of the students in our workshop is named Smart. Appropriate, no?]

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I think of myself as being a halfway decent cook, but I think that's mostly because I only cook for myself and one other person, who is unfailingly enthusiastic about anything even remotely edible I turn out. And the occasional dog. Ditto.

One nice thing about living at the Peace Corps house is that there is always somebody around to cook for, and lately there has almost always been both running water and electricity, both of which make cooking so much more productive. Sadly, I have begun to wonder if I have been overestimated my talents in the kitchen. Tonight I whipped up a delicious-looking Indian kidney bean dish using a packet of spices and recipe sent by a lovely Americaland friend. Because this is the City of Plenty, I actually had every single thing the recipe called for, except fresh cilantro which has all gone to seed. And I actually followed the recipe. Still, something was off about the final dish.

Maybe it was because the called-for quarter cup of fresh ginger made my tongue go numb. Well, there are lots and lots of leftovers, so we can re-examine the situation for the next two days.

Happily, I am currently in the process of redeeming myself via a big pan of homemade granola bars that look like they might turn out ok. This would be a major step for us because granola bars have traditionally occupied prime real estate in the food pyramid of Trevor, yet are inexplicably absent in Zambia. Before I moved here, I would have no more thought to make homemade granola bars than comb my front lawn. But here we are.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


People who received Trevor's calendar have been emailing lately about his not-so-subtle reminder to start sending birthday gifts to me.

Especially after the past two weeks of shopping insanity, we really don't need anything. Of course, I always appreciate Kool-aid. But the best thing is just to hear from people and see the pictures, newspaper clippings, news from your own private Lake Wobegon. If you want to make us a mix CD or have the capacity to burn us a DVD of your favorite show or SNL, so much the better. But mostly we just want to know what's happening on your side of the planet, what's blooming in your yard, what you ate for dinner, what crazy thing your boss did, whatever. We want proof that you remember that we exist.

Is that pathetic? Well, it's my birthday. (Almost.)


We had the opportunity to stay this whole week in Lusaka in a friend's swanky little guesthouse, but Trevor agitated to get back to Chipata.

I was annoyed with him for tearing me away from the satellite TV and ginormous grocery store, but now I think it was the right choice. It doesn't take much to make Trevor happy: he just needs coffee, a beer at the end of the day, and a ton of stuff to do. We've only been back here one day and already people are stopping by the house to talk about their projects. This is exactly why he wanted to shift to Chipata in the first place.

I've been staying busy in my own way. I've made friends with our new house dog, Sophie, a big freckled baby who looks like a hunting dog my grandfather would have had. We took a big walk yesterday and scared lots of Zambians. Since Sophie's not allowed in the house (unless I'm the only human around), she's been sleeping on the chair just outside our door, or on the doormat, pressed against the screen, waiting for the next walk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Back in Chipata

Despite a bus driver with a lead foot and a death wish, we made it back to Chipata from Lusaka last night.

We returned to the Peace Corps house to find that in the absence of the PCVL (volunteer leader), the toilet paper had run out, so Trevor's important morning project was to buy two 50-packs at the nearby wholesaler shop. We won't run out for a few days, though the water is off, which creates other issues. We only managed to wash half our laundry this morning before the water quit, so half our clothes are still soaking in a soapy tub.

I think the real reason Trevor wanted to hurry up and get back to Chipata was so he could load all his new Cape Town CDs on our laptop and reconfigure his MP3 player. New tunes!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cheese (cake)

We made it back to Lusaka today in a marathon of 12 hours by cars and planes. Everything went smoothly-- we even managed to share a taxi from the airport with some very generous teachers from the American school who did the (half) marathon yesterday and paid most of the fare after helping us negotiate it down.

I had nearly forgotten it was Easter until the second plane ride, when the little box lunch/dinner came with cheesecake that I swear was made with my (late) Aunt Doris's recipe, which is the cheesecake my mom serves every Easter. It was the same bizarrely fluffy consistency, the same graham cracker crust. Honestly, I don't even really like it (and regular readers will be aware that I have a Bit of a Sweet Tooth; I don't turn down many desserts), but it made me nostalgic and sappy feeling all the same. It's possible my whole extended family was sitting down to a big Easter dinner at the moment I was eating my little plastic tub of cheesecake. Sniff.

We sat on an exit row, which ramps my crash paranoia into overdrive. On the plane I had a momentary image of our fiery demise, and my first thought was, well, then I don't have to go back to Zambia. It only lasted about a half a second before I realized it was an unacceptable line of thinking. Except for the bus ride back to Chipata, I'm actually kind of excited to get back: to move into our cute little house, to cook up all the delicious treats I bought in Cape Town (mint chocolate cupcakes! etc.), to make some new friends. 

But today I'm kinda homesick. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009


We spent our last day in Cape Town walking from our swanky hotel in the city center through an extremely sketchy, bombed-out, abandoned-buildings neighborhood to the hipster arts/ crafts/ organic food market so filled with white people we had to wade through the crowd. We ate some great food and didn't get robbed or killed on the way there or back, so the morning was a success. We whiled away most of the afternoon at a bookstore that had great knitting books but terrible carrot cake (lemon frosting instead of cream cheese-- WTF??).

We're about to go out for burgers at the little hipster place up the street, but first we stopped in at the internet cafe where the pregnant manager is currently standing outside smoking.

Happy Easter, peeps!

Friday, April 10, 2009


Did I mention that even though April is barely in the double digits, I am already on the gusset decrease, practically the foot, of number two of April's socks? (OK, I did cheat by starting a few days early, in March, and it is my thickest sock yarn, but hey! I'm on vacation!)

Also, I splurged at the gigantic music warehouse on the waterfront and bought season one of Grey's Anatomy. Yeah, baby.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

City mice

We have switched hotels, from the slightly funky backpackers in the first-ring suburb at the edge of the hip neighborhood to a fancy corporate high-rise in the middle of the city. In doing so, we have reconfirmed about ourselves something we already knew; that we are more the slightly crusty type than the fancy financial district type. Specifically, we are opposed to windows that don't open, neighbors who don't speak except to ask for spare change, and elevators. We do like the cable TV and free shampoo (well, one of us has no opinion about shampoo).

One thing the St. Georges Hotel has going for it is the breakfast buffet. Eight types of fruit juice alone! Plus pastries, eggs, hash browns, cheeses, and a huge platter of stir-fried vegetables with noodles (for breakfast? Whatever! It was good).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It pays off, doesn't it? We returned to both of the nearby thrifts today. At one, I found five magazines for 10 rand (about $1), including one that's still on the news stands.

The other one was even better: a two-story garden of delights, including hundreds of records (all crap, though, according to Trevor), and zillions of books so organized there was even a section on ballet.

I found a huge jar of knitting needles and dumped them out to find four sets of DPNs, including one that I believe to be the perfect replacement for the set I brought to Zambia and promptly broke one of. Thrift magic!

Monday, April 6, 2009


After this morning's yoga class (and organic coffee!!), we headed to what seems to be Cape Town's ONLY thrift shop, housed in the church where Desmond Tutu was bishop. Unfortunately, we managed to arrive on its only day off.

Don't worry, we'll try again.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Cape Town makes America look like a developing country. Seriously. I had no idea how gorgeous and swanky this place is. We're camped out in a Victorian mansion with 12-foot ceilings, with our satellite office a block away, at a 100-year old theater showing this year's Oscar winners for $2.50 (another buck for popcorn). Trevor is currently watching Mos Def and Robert Glasper at a jazz festival down the street. Yesterday we hiked up Table Mountain, this morning I went to a rooftop yoga class.

As much as we're enjoying the sights and sounds, I'm most excited about the tastes. I think I've already hit my baggage capacity by loading up on cake mixes, chipotle Tabasco sauce, tahini, soy sauce, red chile paste, and a bunch of other things not available in Zambia's Shoprite.

And yes, I did enjoy some McDonald's french fries, though I've also sampled some delicious spring rolls, tofu, fresh seafood, and more. Ahhhhh, vacation.