Thursday, July 30, 2009

Laundry update

When I was putting away my Esther-washed laundry, I noticed three things:

1. She ironed everything, including my socks. Just like my grandma used to do! She ironed my underwear, too, but Esther can't because in Zambia you have to wash your own underwear and pretend like it doesn't exist. (Don't ask me. I don't understand it either.) (On vacation my friend & I came upon a girl rinsing her undies in a stream, and I secretly took her picture! I still feel a little guilty about it. But it's not like I'm going to post it on my dang blog or anything!)
2. It all smelled really nice.
3. And it was all really clean. Those ironed socks? I had gotten used to them being orange, the color of the dirt that worms its way into my shoes whenever I go jogging. I thought it was like Alabama dirt that just doesn't come out, but it turns out that it does if you have the magic touch, like Esther!

She says it's because her hands are strong. Could be juju. Who's to say?

She's also pretty stoked that I'm writing about her here, and says you can call her and she'll do your laundry, too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Now that I'm officially in charge of the Peace Corps house, I'm throwing away junk like a maniac. Ripped t-shirts, holey jeans, scratched CDs, torn-up books, rotten food: look out, trash pit!

But I am also taking advantage of the one major perk of PCVL-ship, which is that the housekeeper does my laundry for free. While Trevor toiled away at home on his own filthy threads, I hauled mine over to Esther on the back of my bike. By lunchtime my shirts were flapping in the breeze.
The guilt I feel over not doing my own dirty work is SO outweighed by the thrill of not melting my skin with laundry soap and having clothes that actually get clean.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The convergence of [treats that arrived in this week's mail] + [Trevor's family wanting to buy plane tickets to meet us when we finish Peace Corps next year] = has me thinking about the snacks I've got stockpiled in the pantry. This leads me to conclude that I have finally amassed enough koolaid to last until May [eta: maybe April!], when we're outta here. Ditto taco seasoning and other spicy things.

I struggle with the tendency to hoard things, even here where I know my stay is temporary and I will have to carry home my collections in a suitcase. Recently I read an article in Oprah magazine (of course) that advised me to unburden myself from excess junk, knowing that everything I need is readily available. Clearly this writer has never lived in Chipata, where we have experienced shortages of everything from electricity to tomato paste.

It's hard to relax the hoarding instinct when you regularly face empty shelves at the grocery store and have wrung the last drops from your emergency water cans. If I can master the urge here, it should be a breeze when we return to the Land of Plenty.

So-- deep breath-- don't send any more koolaid! I have enough.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oxymoron of the week

After dropping off the newbies for their first site visit, we met up with a volunteer at a shop near her house. Alongside the Spiderman and kiddie punk rock satchels for sale was a pink and purple backpack featuring Barbie... wearing a burqua. I recognized her by her mascara.

It took all my willpower not to buy it, but then I wandered across the road for a cold diet Coke and got assaulted by the maniac orange-selling ladies again and the feeling passed. I did manage to score a watermelon this time around, and it rolled out of the truck and cracked open on the concrete just as we arrived back at the office. (Note to the singer/songwriters out there: Similar to "rain on your wedding day," I would consider this rotten luck, not irony. Anyway, we still ate the watermelon.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Little Things

In true Peace Corps fashion, the newbies spent much of their first few days in Zambia lugging their giant suitcases, backpacks and duffel bags around. I would love to peek in their bags and see what they considered essential for survival in Africa.

Of course, this is different for everybody and every situation. On this latest trip to Lusaka, my quality of life was enhanced greatly by the real coffee I brewed in my travel mug/ French press, pulled from the Chipata house free box. When the newbies struggled to make peanut butter sandwiches during a pit shop traveling upcountry, they were impressed when I pulled a camping spoon/fork out of my bag. And starting out on the trip, I stuffed a half dozen plastic bags in the roll bars of the Cruiser.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Torch passing

The outgoing PCVL got on a plane this afternoon, so I'm flying solo now. So far, so good-- all the PCVLs took the new trainees shopping today for cell phones and food for this week's site visits. We didn't lose anybody or get robbed.

Tomorrow morning we get in the truck for a long and windy trip back upcountry. I packed snacks, music, and about a dozen plastic bags, an entire roll of TP, and hand wipes. Even though I get to ride in the front seat now that I'm The Big Bwana, I'm taking no chances with the Cruiser Curse.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Cruiser Curse

Continues. At least it was in the bag this time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Greasy and delicious

Since last time we were in Lusaka, I've been debating with myself about Crisco. I've never seen it for sale anywhere in Zambia except at the grocery store by the Peace Corps office, but I didn't buy it last time we were in town because 1. it cost 65,000 kwacha, which is a shocking $13 (and we make in the low triple digits, so this is saying something), and 2. I knew Trevor would harass me mercilessly if I did because let's face it, there is something pretty creepy and disgusting about Crisco.

But honestly, I prefer Crisco cookies to butter ones (I know, I know, I know) and the last package I got from my mom contained two bags of real chocolate chips (something else you can't buy here; usually people just chop up candy bars). So I finally decided to go for it, and when I got to Melissa's this afternoon I discovered that Crisco is temporarily marked down to 40,000!!! I even found a tub at the back of the shelf that doesn't expire until December (the ones in front expire the day after tomorrow).

It's as if the universe is saying, sorry about the puke thing, why don't you go home and make yourself some nice cookies. Thanks, universe. I will!

Transport juju

Yesterday's transport was so ridiculous it was actually funny. Well, it was funny later, after I had taken a shower.

Usually riding in a Peace Corps cruiser is the best possible way to get to Lusaka: it's (relatively) fast, it's free (thanks, taxpayers!), the driver is never drunk, and you may be crammed in with other people but at least you know them and they usually don't stink. But yesterday the combination of looking sideways (the back seats face the middle), being post-going-away-party hungover (some of us), and inhaling a disturbing unwashed smell caused the middle passenger to lose his breakfast all over the rest of us. At least we were almost to town, so we mopped up with TP, cranked open the windows, and tried not to think about it. 

Readers paying close attention may sense a theme developing here. Here's hoping it does not continue to develop. 

We were delivering one of the passengers to Lusaka to "ring out" and go home. As a parting gift, she gave me her travel charm, a banged-up toy car. She says she always gets a good hitch when she makes it offerings of her favorite candy. Clearly she neglected it yesterday.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Newbies, oldbies

Lately there's been a little too much traveling without Trevor, but that changes tomorrow when I head down to Lusaka to meet up with him and to await the arrival of the next group of PC trainees!

Preparing for the first site visits of the newbies has got me thinking a lot about how excited and freaked out we were back in the winter of 2008 when we were cramming a ridiculous amount of crap into gigantic suitcases, saying goodbye to our neighborhood and families and pets, and sipping those final margaritas. Last night I picked up an old journal to make a "to do" list and opened to my own first site visit, when Zambia was blowing my mind every minute. I'm thankful that nothing here seems as overwhelming or alien as it did those first few weeks.

Even though I was coming home to a Trevor-less house tonight, I felt a surge of contentment upon opening the door to our cozy little nest. OK, it doesn't hurt that I left a burgeoning going-away party and returned to our friendly Italian neighbor and a quiet house full of knitting projects and Project Runway. Even better was when I went out back with my headlamp to pluck a handful of arugula for dinner. Life is good.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hitching, again

For his trip to Lusaka for a work conference this week, Trevor found the best way yet to hitch: He arranged a ride in advance with a friend, the guy who runs Chipata's ice cream/pizza parlor. Mosali showed up in his shiny new car exactly when he said he would, toting two giant tubs of samoosas and cold Red Bulls. One excellent thing about Muslim drivers is that they are unlikely to be drunk.

They stopped a few times (prayers, family visit) but dropped Trevor off at the door of his swanky hotel in excellent time. He waltzed right in to the dinner buffet and (I'm guessing) spent the rest of the evening surfing the satellite TV.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Power update

The electricity was out for a grand total of about 15 minutes today. We have had multiple baked goods at every meal.

I got a little jolt myself when we attended the provincial agriculture show this morning and discovered, at the craft center booth, several patchwork bags made under my instruction. I was wishing I had my camera and returned home to discover that my camera was, in fact, in my bag all along. Sigh.


Word is that our run-over friend is OK. We think his jaw may be wired shut, though reports that he lost his teeth seem to have been extrapolated from the tale of another friend, who several months ago was run off a road into a tree, losing three teeth.

We spent a good long time at lunch ruminating about what exactly a person with a wired jaw would be able to eat, depending on whether he's here (runny shima?) or in Civilization, aka South Africa (smoothies! milkshakes! creamy soups! V8 juice!).

What goes (largely) unsaid is how it seems inevitable that every PCV in this country is going to have a road accident at some point. We're trying not to be paralyzed by this possibility, though it's tempting to start wearing our bike helmets at all times.

Winter wonderland

Trevor woke up early this morning to go running, but burrowed back under the covers when he heard the wind howling outside. It was a brisk 64 degrees when I finally got up to start the coffee. Thankfully, power was still on for the electric kettle.

Yes, it's the dead of winter here, and that is Just OK with me. Chilly in the morning, but by afternoon it will be hotter here than many places in the US.

Flipping through a NY Times from March, I came across a photo of a car piled several inches high with snow and ice. I'll take this winter weather, thanks. Not looking forward to scraping windshields again.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I realize that I write a lot about electricity here in Zambia. Never before have I given voltage as much thought.

This afternoon on his travels, Trevor heard that the power is scheduled to be off tomorrow from 9 am till 9 pm. I took advantage of having power now by firing up the oven and baking blueberry muffins (thanks, Mom & Dad!), cornbread with shredded carrot, and carrot/raisin bread (with peanuts instead of walnuts, sigh). As he stuffed his face, Trevor said plans to tell me the power's going to be out more often.

Yesterday the mail brought us a bunch of Google maps of Chipata (thanks, Karen & Isaac!). We were awed by the sprawl--this city is way bigger than I realized. Trevor just learned that only about 4,000 of Chipata's approximately 75,000 people are on the power grid (hydroelectric). The other 71,000 cook with firewood or charcoal, which translates to a staggering number of trees getting chopped down, burnt up, and not replanted.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Baby Goats

When they fall in the latrine and nobody can get them out, generally they die. Sad, I know. This is one reason people generally cover their latrine holes. It's also one of the most icky things I've ever contemplated, unless you count my visit yesterday to PCV Kurt, whose neighbors very kindly brought over breakfast for our little delegation: shima, soy pieces, and charred mice.

I ate the soy pieces but pictured those burnt little bodies with every bite.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two completely unrelated odd things

I am no karate kid but i can often grab mosquitoes right out of the
air, though not with chopsticks. Yet.

On vacation in nw province last week it was too cold for mozzies but
here in eastern the weather is always perfect for pests.

I spent the afternoon visiting a pcv who during her first two months
at site had two baby goats fall into her latrine. The villagers
couldn't get them out.

Enjoy your breakfast!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I'm feeling funky today, but luckily we've had a quiet day in Lusaka at the Peace Corps bunkhouse to lay low. I got to spend a crazy amount of time on the internet, trolling my favorite blogs with pictures I can't see on my home (crap) internet connection, and walked up to the grocery store only to discover they sell Parmesan cheese! Yowza.

So not an entire loss, and tomorrow we begin the final leg of the trip home. I'll sleep in my own bed... Wednesday.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


After perhaps the least relaxing vacation ever, we are finally on the
bus back to Lusaka.

Fittingly we kicked off the trip by again getting up at four to walk
to the station. Then Trevor got sick several times, including in a
cereal box, which in case you wondered is not water tight.

The good news is the bus trip is otherwise smooth, our smooshed friend
is doing ok in a south africa hospital, and our friends in america
picked a name for boy number three. (congratulations mamas and

It's up and down in africa as always but as long as the batteries hold
up in the radios i think we are hanging in there.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Every day, seriously. This morning i got up at four to walk to town to
catch the bus and meet Trevor for the first leg of our trip home. The
moon was so bright i turned off my headlamp and followed the glow of
the dirt road. Amazing. And i'm exhausted.

A friend got run over by a truck yesterday, so everybody is edgy and
worried. He was airlifted to south africa so we haven't heard how he
is as the big medical privacy machine takes over from friends huddling
in the hospital room.

And we met someone from missouri today! He had on both a missouri
T-shirt and a cardinals hat so i figured. He's a missionary. He and
Trevor talked baseball.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Not much to report from vacationland. We're sleeping late and eating
too much mostly. Trevor and andy climbed a hill with another volunteer
and we all met up in town for beers and Shima. Lots of knitting and
lounging on my part. It's all very vacationy.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


We did finally make it to our friends' house after nearly three days
of transport. Our last ride was the type that made me question my own
sanity. Nice car. However, the driver drank three beers, though he did
offer us one too, and told us an hour into the drive that he was
headed to the police station to pick up the accident report from when
he rolled a truck last week.

Luckily he was driving so fast we didn't spend long in the car.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Plane, train...

What i would give to travel by any other method right now. Day two of
our epic trip across zambia and dear lord this bus makes hitching look
good. We sat on the bus five hours this morning before moving an inch.
Currently we are stopped at a weigh station (surprising it even
exists! Who knew?) that we went through three times already. No way
We'll get there before dark at this point, though we are starting to
wonder if we will get anywhere past here. Trevor actually suggested

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


The new drivers license does me no good on vacation, as we have no
car. I was feeling money anxiety so we decided to hitch to Lusaka (on
our way to visit friends) instead of taking the bus.

Bad idea. Bad bad bad. After leaving home at six, we caught a ride two
towns down, then stood by the road til noon. We were about to give up
and go home when a pickup stopped. Good except we had the misfortune
of experiencing the coldest day ever in zambia going the fastest i
have traveled here.

The good news is i learned how to create instant dreadlocks. Just add
wind! Now how to get rid of the dreads. Tre suggests shaving my head.
Hoping for something slightly less drastic.