Tuesday, June 30, 2009


We went back over to the office this morning while doing a little last-minute cramming about road signs and speed limits. My driving test consisted of ferrying the driver office boss over to the bank, waiting while he used the ATM, and delivering him back to his office while he read the newspaper. He didn't ask me about road rules and I didn't kill (or nearly kill) anybody, so I passed.

Eventually, I will be able to go back to the office and pick up my official license. There was a basket of them on the counter; apparently you wait awhile, then show up and paw through the cards for your own. Meanwhile, I've developed a new appreciation for my bike.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Driving (me crazy)

I spent most of the day in pursuit of a Zambian driver's license. This involved three trips to the motor vehicle office, one trip to Chipata General Hospital for a "medical exam" in which the doctor gave me perfect marks even though I swear he did not even look at me (and even though I have a Minor Visual Defect that always causes major consternation and calling over of managers at the American drivers license department), and one stop at the office place (escorted by the motor vehicle office guard) to copy a form that says in three places, "This form is provided free. No photocopies will be accepted!"

All that, and we kept ending up at the window of the surly guy, so tomorrow I get to go back and take the driving test. To prepare, the official PC driver and I took a little spin around town this afternoon (my first time ever driving on the left and the first time I've driven a stick shift in at least five years) in which I very nearly ran over a bicycling rastafarian who was crossing against Chipata's sole traffic light. He yelled some insult at me that touched upon my whiteness and our PC driver made me stop so he could chase the guy to defend my honor, since it was Not My Fault. (He didn't catch the rastafarian. I was kind of disappointed since it's been quite a while since anybody tried to defend my honor and was wondering what he would do with the rasta if he caught him.)

I kept reminding myself it's no fun to get a license in America, either.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Trevor Report

Trevor has spent the entire week ensconced in a project review with local groups and the NGO he's helping. The week has involved lots of group work, flip charts and instant coffee. He's done a lot of doodling and wandering away from sessions in search of sausage rolls.

He got home a little earlier than usual this afternoon, and when I came home from teaching yoga I found him laying on the couch looking somewhat comatose. It's not even 8:30 and he's already headed to bed.

While he was busy working, I spent the morning helping our outgoing PCVL sort through her accumulations in anticipation of her move to Americaland, "help" mostly taking the form of filling up a sack with her cast-offs, the PC/Z equivalent of a semester-end trash pile. I snagged a few of Trevor's favorite things: maps, stickers, chocolate, random photos of strangers.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Unrequited reading

With all its free time and eventless evenings, Peace Corps seems like a great opportunity to catch up on the books I've been meaning to read for years. (See "painfully understimulating," below.) We will still be here until well into 2010, but as I see our finite time left here shrinking, along with the sock-knitting mania, I've tried to conquer my to-read pile, starting with Jane Austen. As a writer, recovering English graduate student, and acquaintance of several members of the Jane Austen Society, I have always felt I should read her.

I was disappointed in myself when I only got about a third of the way through Emma before realizing that, while it makes for good bedtime reading since it puts me to sleep instantly, I will never have enough free time to care about the romantic foibles of a bunch of self-absorbed upper-class British people way even more understimulated than myself. I like gossip, but I also prefer soundbytes to page-long chunks of polite dialogue.

So I tossed Emma and picked up The Gift of Fear, which I can report is gripping.

Trevor doesn't have my problem. Currently on his bedside: Buddhist meditations, Jared Diamond, and Mad magazine. No angst whatsoever.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


It can be surprisingly entertaining to live in a place that is in many ways painfully understimulating. For example, I spent the lunch hour with the PC house's housekeeper and guard knitting (all of us) and watching (for the second time in Zambia, oddly) the movie Babe.

Esther doesn't know how to work the VCR, so she found me in the kitchen to ask me to put on "the one with the pig he talks." The movie itself is a bit of a tearjerker (well, at least to this vegetarian) but the best part was Esther's color commentary, which is a mix of the wonder of a little kid and all the off-color slang PCVs have entertained themselves by teaching her over the years.

The second best part was Esther swearing she will never eat pig again. OK, she did say she has never liked pig to begin with. And she probably can rarely afford meat anyway. But still.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


An increasing number of buzzing visitors to our bed inspired me to re-repel our mosquito net today. The process requires untying the thing from the ceiling, shaking out the carcasses and termite poops, and soaking it in a solution that comes with a disturbingly intense brochure of safety instructions.

I managed to wear the plastic gloves properly, but I also flicked a few drops of the solution on my face, so I've spent the afternoon burning off the skin by my eyebrow. Yay!

When I hung the net back up (where were the gloves for that part??), I positioned it so the door opening is on Trevor's side so he will be the one who has to make sure the saggy fabric is safely shuttered against our malarial foes, a constant struggle in our bedroom.

Trevor just came home and said, "This is good, because I feel that you are not entirely vigilant in that regard." I swear that is what he said. He also brought me a ginormous avocado and thinks he may have damaged his insides by chewing an entire pack of sugarless gum today.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The thing is, you don't even have to spend hundreds of bucks on a safari to see some wild and/or entertaining things in Zambia.

One of my favorite sights is a lady strolling down the road balancing a bulging suitcase on her head. Three people riding one bicycle. An old guy wearing a Yogi Bear t-shirt. There's no shortage of people-watching opportunities in a place with so darned many people.

The saddest sight of the day: the chocolate shelf at Shoprite, normally stocked with two brands and a dozen varieties, big bars and little ones. Today it was completely bare. Still no granola or tomato paste either, but they did have a nice new shipment of pears and apples and Windhoek beer. Sold!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Creatures & comforts

Did you know that an elephant poop looks like an overcooked loaf of bread? And that not only do they trumpet as a warning, they also fart to announce danger?

Just a few of the animal facts we picked up in South Luangwa as we spent three days trolling the park on foot and riding in seats bolted onto the bed of a 1972 Land Cruiser. We saw everything from a python trying to slither up a tree (on the walking safari: kind of terrifying!) to a leopard stalking puku, hippos scarfing down weeds as they floated in an oxbow, elephants tossing dirt on their backs, and birds picking bugs off water buffalo.

Also: Vultures, giraffes, crocodiles, kudu, antelope, warthogs, herons, zebras, civets, mongoose, baboons, green mamba, fish eagles, water buck, owls, a lilac breasted roller and an ant lion (the closest we got to the king of the animals, sadly). You get to the point where you start thinking, "Another elephant? Eh."

I have to admit I was also pretty taken in by safari tents with real beds inside, delightfully hot showers, and sitting at a table (with a tablecloth!) on the banks of the Luangwa at sunset, sipping wine (boxed wine, but still) while a guy brought around chocolate cake drizzled with cream.

On the drive back, we stopped at a fabric-craft workshop called Tribal Textiles, which provides employment for local folks doing starch-resist painting for bags, wall-hangings, bedspreads, and table linens. Their discount room was stripped clean when we left.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


This has to be one of my life's more surreal moments, lounging in my
tent in a safari camp on the bank of the luangwa river while writing

Between this morning's game drive and the evening walk, we spent a few
hours at the thatched bar watching hippos float in the river and
monkeys scamper around the pool. On the walk, Trevor filled his
pockets with seeds so we will soon have our own little piece of bush
camp. The guide says tomorrow We'll look in elephant poop for more
seeds. Can't wait for that.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Monkeys, elephants, etc

Guess who leaves on safari today?

We'll be back Sunday. Pictures will have to wait until next time we're in Lusaka, but we'll give you a rundown of the critters.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Last night we watched a borrowed bootleg of Ironman, the kind of bootleg that's taped right in the movie theater, complete with folks walking by with their popcorn. The sound was terrible and the subtitles were unintelligible but who cares? It's not like the movie has a plot anyway.

Our dinner included peppers that have grown almost too hot to eat. Having flaming hot residue on my fingers, I've learned just how often I scratch my face. Yowza!

Trevor has a new sporty buddy, a fellow NGO type who may be the first East German I've ever met. They went running yesterday and have hatched a scheme to join the squash club the Indians here run. We've heard women aren't allowed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


After lugging a bunch of junky old magazines, string, and glue over to the orphan school, I spent the afternoon teaching some kids how to make paper beads. I fretted about only having one pair of scissors to share, but it turned out that several kids had razor blades in their pencil boxes.

Let's all take a moment to imagine an American third grader pulling out a bare razor blade in class. I'm guessing the teacher wouldn't say, "Hey, let me use that for a second," like the one here did.

Paper beads were a big hit, we had a nice chat about Barack Obama's heritage and a giggle about the crazy contortions in the yoga catalog we were razoring up, and I hightailed it outta there in time to make pizza with homemade mozzarella for dinner.

(Slick how I threw that in, huh? I know this isn't a food blog, but jeez.) Trevor is
fine, by the way. He's pretty excited about the mini safari we leave for Friday and is working on some more radio programs even though the ones he sent to our hometown radio station have never aired.


The soysages turned out more like exploding globs of beans and vegetables, so they wound up getting baked in a pan, so it was more like Soy and Stuff Casserole, aka Veggie Slop, a longtime menu staple in our household.

The evening's more popular dish was the chocolate chip cookies from a mix my mom sent (she is feeding us from afar). I was saving them for a "special occasion," which I found last night: The oven was already on!

You can't buy chocolate chips in Zambia, so chocolate chip cookies are a rare treat. Fresh-from-the-oven, homemade-tasting chocolate chip cookies are a religious experience.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Last night's culinary adventure: peanut brittle! People here grow tons of peanuts, though they call them groundnuts. We eat them every possible way (last night's dinner also featured West African groundnut soup), but I was afraid to try candy, perhaps because of my fear of molten sugar. My inaugural batch of brittle is a little dark and a little too sticky (definitely not because of humidity!), but folks couldn't stop nibbling, so it was edible at least.

I take no responsibility for any loss of fillings.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I am sending away for my hippie cooking merit badge for sure: yesterday afternoon I made my first batch of homemade cheese! The kit my mom sent me advertises it as "30-minute mozzarella," but it took me most of the afternoon to get it up to the right temperature and skim the chunks off the watery parts. It turned out beautiful and delicious, though I'm a little disappointed by the milk-to-cheese ratio (one gallon= two small blobs of cheese.) This brings us one step closer to the perfect Zambia pizza.

Next up: ricotta! (Plus we have a pot of soy beans on the stove right now; further adventures in hippie foods: soysages!)

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Our one little grocery store in Chipata doesn't carry any brownie mixes, frozen peas, vacuum-sealed salmon, or sacks of pre-washed spinach.

["Well then, what the hell do they sell?" you may be wondering. Answer: a little food (whole food), several entire aisles of cleaning supplies, and a lot of plastic containers to keep vermin out of your mealie meal.]

This lack of packaged food means I've gotten a crash course in cooking from scratch. Thank god for Better Homes & Gardens and the hippie cookbooks; have you noticed that magazine dessert recipes all include a cake mix? The hippies know that you're starting out with a sack of wheat berries and some raw honey.

I was proud of myself last night when we produced falafel (courtesy of a box from my mom) with homemade cucumber sauce (the yogurt part was drained fermented milk; they do sell yogurt here but all I have is mango flavored) and hummus featuring beans smashed with a potato masher. Chunky hummus! D- for texture, B+ for taste. Hummus is one recipe the hippie cookbooks don't know; anybody out there have a great recipe (that ideally only includes things I can buy in Zambia)?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Artsy craftsy

I'm planning to start helping out at the orphan school on Wednesday afternoons, which is Art Day. I have a few projects lined up (paper beads, drawing, origami) already, but does anybody else out there have suggestions for projects that would be easy, fun, maybe even educational, and do-able by kids in grades 3-7?

Oh, and did I mention the only supplies we have are colored pencils and rubbish?

Friday, June 12, 2009


Down here below the equator, the days are getting crazy short and it's definitely winter. Some signs:

-- People carrying around and even wearing winter coats. I mean, it does get down to 78 degrees: you could easily freeze to death. To be fair, we do have a down comforter on our bed, which I felt ridiculous bringing to Africa, but it turns out when you live in a place without central heating, a little chilly goes a long way.
-- Leaves are falling in our yard, to be quickly swept up by Ben the gardener.
-- The market is full of winter vegetables. Last night I roasted beets and carrots, followed by a pumpkin that sat in the oven most of the night because the power went out when it was half done.
-- Everybody has a cold.
-- By our front door is a little clutch of blooming paperwhites, a flower I associate with Christmas in America, since I always buy a pack of bulbs on closeout sometime around Thanksgiving and force in a bowl on the dining room table.


I spent Thursday morning at the craft center, teaching their sewing production unit how to do crazy quilting with chitenge scraps.

The craft center is run by nuns as an extension of their adult trade training center. It's populated with disabled people, Rastafarians, and one Japanese volunteer [edited to add: who wears a ponytail on the very top of her head and made me an origami bird with flapping wings!]. They iron atop a blanket spread on the floor and sew on Singer machines ranging from brand-new (which looks broken) to hand-crank to ancient industrial style.

I got Mr. Banda piecing scraps and within minutes he was embroidering zigzags, flowers and butterflies. He made one little pouch, complete with zipper and wrist strap, and immediately started another. It felt like he's been waiting to unleash a flood of creativity.

When I left, folks were gathering up big piles of fabric and commandeering machines. Next week: log cabin blocks.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Trevor has cycled away on a site visit for a few days, leaving me to drink entire pots of coffee on my own, eat macaroni in front of the computer with a chick flick playing, and not pick up the sewing scraps all over the living room.

I do miss him, but I'm not complaining.

It's been the usual roller coaster this week; after a discouraging start, I've had some great meetings, including with two VSO volunteers eager to collaborate. In a few hours I head to the craft center to teach the production unit sewers how to crazy quilt. And the seedlings are jamming.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Movie night

I took advantage of Trevor's absence to borrow a bunch of chick flicks I knew he would hate from the PC house. Alas, my top two choices wouldn't play on my computer because they were formatted for the wrong region.

And Zambian "pop"corn is mis-named. A few kernals pop, but the rest sort of split open or burn on the bottom of the pan. Sigh!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Trevor and I spent the morning visiting a school run by our new neighbor, Marco, in one of Chipata's many illegal housing compounds just a few kilometers from here.

The school, which is set up in a regular old house, serves 160 orphans in grades 1-7; Marco says he turned away another 600. Because converted bedrooms can only hold so many kids, the students attend in shifts, big kids in the morning and little ones in the afternoon.

Orphans here get the scraps of whatever their guardians can spare, so every shift includes a big bowl of porridge, which Marco says is sometimes the only food the kids get. They have to bring their own bowls and spoons-- I saw one kid eating with a ruler. The school has shorter holiday breaks than government schools to make sure the kids don't starve.

The kids are grubby like every Zambian kid, and they're tiny for their age. Some of them were sewn into their uniforms because the buttons had gone missing. But when Marco introduced us, the kids stood up and sang so loud it made my ears ring.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Failures and successes

In trying to develop my Chipata projects, I've been stood up, postponed, and received enthusiastically for things I suspect my colleagues have no intention of helping to materialize.

But the garden that we double-dug in a frenzy of permaculture madness is doing great, despite a shady spot and soil that is sandy, rocky, and filled with compost so undecomposed that we regularly turn up entire peanut shells. Since not much had germinated after a week of sporadic watering due to the power being out, we decided to re-seed the greens, cilantro and basil yesterday. Suddenly a million little seedlings jumped up from the soil as if insulted by our lack of faith.

If nothing else, I'm going to be a raging overachiever when it comes to lettuce.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


The guard at the guesthouse on our way home doesn't know my name, so she calls out "Peace Corps!" when I ride by. Since she pronounces the "s" at the end, it comes out "Peace Corpse." I think that's a yoga position.

She's not the only Zambian with a creative way to label our organization. My favorite interpretation is "Piss Cops."

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I had some things planned for today, like sewing some new curtains while the power is coming through with enough force for the sewing machine to run.

My plans were derailed by a sudden Plumbing Problem (brought on by the Water Issues of last week, no doubt), a lunch guest, and news that the package I've been expecting from my family finally arrived carrying the mozzarella-making kit that promises to revolutionize our pizza operation, so I had to rush to the post office before it closed at noon.

Peace Corps volunteers must be flexible. And I'd rather have french fries with a friend than sew hems anyway.

Friday, June 5, 2009


With our newfound access to seemingly unlimited piles of junk, Trevor and I are quickly filling our small house with treasures. Today he brought home a carved wooden plaque depicting a monkey and a reverse-applique pillow cover. I found curtain fabric from Japan featuring scarf-wearing cats and some new/old cloth napkins but passed on a throw rug screaming "Crimson Tide!" although it did make me wonder why Alabama is so much better represented than Missouri in the salaula here.

Trevor has also been collecting (in no particular order): abandoned kid shoes, round things, stamps, bottle caps, ironic t-shirts (he is especially fond of one that advertises "The Weekend for Authentic Manhood"), homemade toys (he found a knitted doll wearing a sweater embroidered "Don," which is the name of his boss here) and lots of carved wood. It's a good thing they don't sell records here or we would be washed away on a sea of katundu (stuff).

Thursday, June 4, 2009


I'm almost afraid to announce that we once again have Those Things I've been most missing the past few days.

The great tragedy is that the restoration of those Important Things comes on the very day that the assembled Eastern Province PCVs all head back to their sites, having spent the weekend (in many cases their first time back in the capital and thus in proximity of showers and refrigeration since getting posted) stinky and in the dark.

Trevor has declared it the day of the blues, as he just learned from the NY Times website that Queen of the Blues Koko Taylor has died. She made regular sweeps through our hometown.

I'm hoping the You-Know-What holds, because yesterday I bought a kg of soybeans (that's 2.2 pounds for 3,000 kwacha-- roughly 50 cents) and am itching to try the recipes for soymilk and tofu in my Encyclopedia of Country Living and Laurel's Kitchen cookbook.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Powerful but parched

I know it's not about me, but this power and water situation is making me a crazy ball of stress, especially since the water hasn't been on even long enough for us to fill our buckets since Sunday, so we have nearly emptied the cans stashed around our house, and the seeds I planted are surely choking to death.

The power has been on for an hour or two at a time, at least, but we're learning that we would choose running water over lights, especially since we have no idea if there's a borehole or well within walking or biking distance, so when we run out completely we're going to be screwed. The poor neighborhoods have public spigots (you pay to fill your buckets), but we live in a relatively rich area where there's nothing.

Since there's no local newspaper, the only sources of information are the radio and the rumor mill. We've heard all sorts of fanciful rationales for the problem, ranging from weeds overtaking a dam to the power company diverting all the nation's electricity to the rich people in Lusaka and Southern province instead of here. Nobody knows (or will say) if power will be restored full time or if we'll continue to get an hour or two a day indefinitely. Last year it was on one day and off the next. We hear even the local power utility doesn't know what's going on.

If you're lucky enough to still have local media, especially those fierce newspaper watchdogs, be thankful that you have a way to find out the truth about what's going on in your community.
I can testify that a lack of knowledge and accountability is enough to drive you bonkers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Small things

When things here get too frustrating, I try to find joy in the little things. Like finding cauliflower at the vegetable market, and the power being on just long enough for Trevor to charge his phone, and watching a guy walk down the street yesterday selling individual moth balls out of a plastic sack.

Speaking of things, I know I said we don't need anything and we really don't, but Peace Corps issued us these awesome new bike lights that take four AAA each batteries, which are hard to find here, so if somebody was dying to send us something, rechargable AAA batteries (not AA, because we have zillions of those and rarely use them) would be so fantastic.

To show our appreciation, we could send you a moth ball. Or two! (Or something else!)


Apparently I spoke too soon. The power is out again. Still.

I know I'm completely spoiled in having power at all, but man is our
fridge starting to get funky. And I miss life without headlamps.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lights, action!

Praise god, the power is back on. The beans are cooking, the dishes are washed, and when I left the PC house a little while ago, Liz was whipping up the biggest batch of brownies I've ever seen.

Words and actions

The first yoga session went great, with five enthusiastic participants and one nervous spectator. Only one yogi speaks English as a first language, which meant I had to be a better model, since I typically rely on verbal cues. But it went great and we had Italian coffee and apple tart afterwards and bonded about how awkward it is to live in a place where even development workers employ maids, gardeners and guards.

The power and water are still out, which gives me a good excuse to avoid running (no shower!) but also means the milk went bad and we had to make breakfast on the camp stove. The garbanzos I've been soaking for hummus since yesterday morning are both sprouting and getting smelly. This is an extra tragedy since I brought them specially from Lusaka, the only place you can buy them in Zambia. Wah!