Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Reverse culture shock

Back in Zambia many months ago, Trevor and I attended a "close of service" conference to talk about post-Peace Corps life. We talked at excruciating length about reverse culture shock-- the notion that the adjustment to home can be much more difficult than going away in the first place.
Along with our absolute glee over being home, we have both experienced darker moments of melting down in the grocery store, momentarily forgetting which is the "right" side of the road, and missing our quiet routine, free time, and friends in Zambia.
Having adjusted to life in Zambia, we now see America with a much more critical eye. I'm especially having trouble with the way people here fritter away their time (Facebook!) and money, then complain about being broke and overbooked.
The upside is using this information to make better decisions about how to craft our own new/old lives. And lots of practice in keeping our big mouths shut!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


You've may have noticed that I'm not updating this blog much now that I'm back in Americaland.
Even though every day with Trevor is an adventure (and we continue to travel, just much smaller journeys!), I'm not feeling all that inspired to post anymore.
I may shift over to my craft blog soon-- when/if I do, I'll put a note here!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


While I used my intermittent internet access to stay in touch with America while we were in Zambia, I hadn't counted on technology connecting me back to Africa. I guess I figured I would only keep track of Zambia by way of our remaining Peace Corps friends.

But to my happy surprise, more and more of my Zambian friends are popping up on my Facebook list. This morning I heard from a buddy in Chadiza that a colleague Trevor and I worked with closely died unexpectedly last week. This guy was young, probably in his mid-30s, with small children. His untimely death comes as another grim reminder to me of what Zambia taught me again and again-- life is short (especially for Africans with crap health care and limited public services!).

I don't know the circumstances of our friend's death, but coincidentally another friend in Zambia posted on Facebook that she saw three dead bodies on the road yesterday, reminding me to be grateful for ambulances. Amen to that.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Over the past two years, Trevor and I spent a lot of time scheming ways to fix up our home in America. Trevor mostly wanted to dig his hands in the garden. Me, I'm more interested in the interiors.

We spent one year in a mud hut with dirt-colored walls and another year in a tiny house where the landlord didn't even want us putting pictures on the wall. Upon taking possession of our own home again, I made a visit to the hardware store for gallons of paint-- mango, yellow, robin's egg blue, minty green. Our rooms look like an Easter basket.

A new couch is on its way to replace the dirt-colored one passed down from my grandma. Also, we replaced our fridge. The new one has an ice maker.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Trevor and I loved the street life in Zambia-- countless people cruising the roads by foot and bike at all times of day, in town and way out in the bush.

Still, we yearned for our friendly and safe neighborhood back home, both when we lived on a walled compound (locked in with our argumentative and often drunk landlords) and when we lived on a family compound in the village, where we could only escape constant scrutiny by hiding in our dark little hut.

In America, we live in a funky old house with a huge yard, around the corner from my parents and a mile from a flourishing downtown with an impressive public library. Now that we're home, I walk the dogs around the block and chat with the friendly neighbors, feeling very Mr. Rogers. We eat dinner at the picnic table in the front porch and greet the strolling passersby. All last week, folks stopped by in to welcome us back to the neighborhood, bringing fresh strawberries, lettuce, and flowers from their gardens.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Home, sweet sweet home

Even though I am surrounded by drip-covered cans of paint, half emptied boxes, lamps with no bulbs, and complicated to-do lists, I am so incredibly happy to be home in my home that is filled with luxuries large and small.

I've got a contented little dog sighing on the couch next to me, a laptop that's repaired after contracting nearly deadly viruses in Africa, a very secure wireless high-speed internet connection, and ice clunking out of the ice maker I insisted on installing in my new refrigerator.

Best of all, I have upcoming dates with friends and family AND a husband on his way home from day three of his perfect new job and leaving Sunday for a conference while I audition a potential second dog.

And I am soaking it all in.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Domestic traveling

On our drive up to Fargo last weekend for the marathon we had many hours to admire the stark but bewitching Midwestern landscape. Barns, fields, cows, etc. We also had the opportunity to indulge our love of road food (Fritos, giant fountain sodas, a cooler full of sandwiches), rest areas (especially the info centers staffed by friendly, helpful senior citizens; the ones in South Dakota even gave out commemorative pins and called the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead for opening hours!), and radio (the highlight: hearing the tie-breaking extra inning of Sunday's Cardinals game).

I love how the highway also incubates great conversations. We talked about how we might use what we learned in the past two years to shape our future.

And the future is already underway-- we've swung right back into painting our house in preparation for moving in over the weekend (we hope) before Trevor starts his new job Tuesday!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


In the week since we've been home, I've remembered how frantic and busy life in America can be. Catching up with friends and family, making way too many trips to Target, fixing up our house to move back in, job interviews (Trevor, not me), eating our weight in tortilla chips (me, not Trevor) ...

All this, and we're headed to Fargo this weekend for a marathon that we signed up for back in January. Those initial slogs through Zambia's rainy season seem far away now. Trevor has kept up with his training schedule through all the travel and time changes, but I've struggled with motivation and now a cold and a weird pain in my knee. Luckily I'm only doing the half marathon. If I have to, I'll walk. Or crawl.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Home again

I have debated whether to continue writing the blog now that Trevor and I are back home, and I've decided I will for now. After all, life with Trevor is always a journey!

And we're still traveling! We spent part of this week on the road, visiting family in St. Louis. We observed that culture shock hits much worse in the city than our relatively sleepy little town. St. Louis takes America to the extreme, with its sprawling strip malls and multi-lane highways full of Hummers (seriously!??!) and angry, honking drivers. Although I love having the opportunity to buy a 32 oz. Diet Dr. Pepper for 59 cents, I didn't miss family drama or traffic.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Final leg

Well, the journey is now complete-- we're home, at least in our hometown, if not in our own actual house (that will be another week or two). We managed to dodge the cloud of volcanic ash and arrive just a few hours late instead of days late as I had feared.

It's fabulous to be home! Although we're still a little jetlaggy, we're soaking in what's left of the spring flowers, catching up with family and friends, eating way too much of everything, and plotting our next steps. Trevor already has a job interview.

Maybe we'll get slammed by the reverse culture shock that everybody has warned us about, but for now I'm loving the grocery store full of a zillion choices, listening to NPR while I go for a run wearing whatever I want and not getting stared at or commented upon, and letting the dog sleep on my pillow. (Although she snores.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Volcano, still.

I feel like the universe is messing with me as I nervously scroll the interwebs trying to figure out how I might change our airline tickets if, in fact, the Dublin airport does not open back up in the next 36 hours. This is one of those times I'm cursing myself for booking online instead of through a human being, and for not buying travel insurance.

I just want to go home. I would swim if I could, though my giant heaps of luggage would quickly pull me under.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The morning after

As we walked from Amsterdam's Central Station back to the hotel where we're meeting Trevor's dad and brother, we lamented the fact that the family had to arrive on such a gloomy day and after the Queen's Night festivities. Not only did Trevor's brother miss the flea market, which he would have loved, but the normally pristine streets are filled with wet garbage. And a lot of other really icky stuff.

But when I walked our laundry around the corner, I saw scrubby Dutch people out, sweeping the sidewalks. And the sun keeps peeking out.

Now, if they would just hurry up and get here!

Friday, April 30, 2010


We went out late yesterday afternoon just to see what all the Queen├Ęs Night fuss was about, only to find that just about every street in Utrecht's city center had become a long, skinny garage sale. We walked around in the increasingly packed streets until just past dark, around 9:30 pm, and bought a few small things. The market and accompanying party were allegedly going to continue all night but it started thundering and raining around midnight, which quieted things down a bit.

In the morning, a few hardy souls were setting up their stalls again in the drizzle, but other people had dumped their wares off the tables and abandoned the junk on the streets. A dumpsterer├Ęs delight!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


By accident, we've landed in Utrecht just in time to celebrate Queen's Night (and day), an overnight, citywide drunken party commemorating the Queen's birthday. According to our hosts at the Hostel Strowis where we're staying, the entire city will also be filled with a giant flea market.

Knowing us, I'm more nervous about the flea market than the party.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Like Christmas

After a full day of strolling around Amsterdam, shopping like the day after Thanksgiving, lamenting all the treasures we lost in our bags, and being somewhat relieved to be rid of what we could freely admit was four giant bags of mostly junk, arrived back at our hotel to discover our luggage was on their way over from Schiphol airport.

Praise be!

Now, not only do we have our original stuff back, but Trevor has an entire ensemble of Dutch hipster clothing, complete with purple trousers!

Also, during our travels, Trevor dumpstered a giant pile of old maps, so now we have even more crap than before. (And remember how before, it was already way too much stuff, mostly garbage? Yeah.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring forward

I knew we had re-entered civilization when we landed at the Cairo airport and promptly spent $30 on breakfast.

But aside from sticker shock and disappearing luggage, I have to say that it's a complete pleasure to be back in the first world.

We flew almost directly north from Johannesburg (according to the in-flight map, we actually flew right over Chipata!) and even though we traveled for 24 hours, we didn't change a single time zone. But we left behind blistering equatorial weather and the worst mosquitos in 27 months, landing instead in gorgeous, cool spring weather with blooming daffodils and sunlight until past 9 pm! Plus sidewalk cafes, jazz on the radio, free high-speed internet, coffee on every corner, and people who mistake us for locals.

Trevor finally gets an excuse to wear my undies.

"Praying for the best" did not turn out to not be a winning strategy this time.

We managed to arrive in Amsterdam without a single delay, but our bags did not.

Things got off to a bad start when the check-in agents in Lusaka tried to charge us $590 for overweight bags (a dubious claim, since they somehow got much heavier between being weighed at the office and arriving at the airport). Then the agents offered to help us sort out the manner if I could give them "a little something to buy drinks."

When they mocked the size of my bribe, I knew we were in trouble. But I could not have guessed that "trouble" would mean they seemingly did not check in our bags at all. All four have completely disappeared from the airline's computer system, though we have the claim tickets.

Well, the silver lining is that, as noted above, Trevor finally has a legitimate excuse to share my underwear. (Though we bought him a new set of clothes-- including undies-- on the way to the hotel.)

And in our frenzy to collude with the gate agents and make it look like we were making our bags lighter, we threw a ton of stuff from our checked bags into our carry-ons, so we have a bunch of things that would otherwise be lost now. And my carry-on contains the clothes I planned to wear on the holiday, so even though Trevor landed with nothing but a toothbrush and sandals, it could be worse. We have money, so I think we'll manage somehow.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Normally, we travel light-- for example, once we spent two weeks in Europe with carry-on luggage alone, including bike helmets.

I had hoped it would be the same thing for our trip home, seeing as how we're traveling via Europe, with about ten billion stops along the way. But alas, we have managed to accumulate even more stuff than we came here with, which is even more incredible when you realize we have jettisoned nearly everything we arrived with and acquired all new stuff while we were here.

As a result, we've spent the morning madly weighing our numerous bags and checking airline websites to make sure we're within the limits. As with our reservations, I can't get a definitive answer so I'm about ready to give up and just pray for the best.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


That's it-- after a few teary speeches, handing out of commemorative patches, and ringing of a bell (actually a tire rim, but close enough), we're now officially Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Seeing as how we're still not 100 percent sure we're going anywhere tomorrow (more likely: we leave Zambia and sit in Cairo for... awhile), this seems a bit premature. But still! We're done!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Comfortably numb

I spent most of yesterday drooling and talking funny after my date with the dentist.

Friends have expressed disbelief that I willingly underwent dental work (fillings) in Zambia, but I have to say that the dentist office here is way more modern and fancy than my dentist at home-- murals painted on the ceiling, a killer sound system, pina colada-flavored numbing gel!

Also, I have heard such horror stories about getting Peace Corps to reimburse medical expenses once you leave the country that there was no way in hell I was getting on a plane without getting every possible problem taken care of.

As a bonus, Trevor was very amused by the drooling.

Monday, April 19, 2010


After watching the news last night i started fretting that the our cos
trip will be scuttled because of the volcano. And that we will forfeit
our plane tickets and room deposits plus have to find a new way home.

Still feeling anxious i got up to discover no breakfast at the hotel,
then at the office there had been a change of schedule making me
instantly late for a doctor's appointment. Now i'm sitting in the
doctor's office with a bunch of sneezing and screaming kids while i
wait for the medical officer to fax over the form she was supposed to
give me at the office.

And i forgot to bring a book, so instead have been working on my final
financial statement that appears to be laughably unbalanceable.

Holy monday from hell.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Going away

We had our going-away party Friday night, and although several friends were out of town, we still managed to have a rollicking party.

Me, I managed to drink an entire bottle of wine by myself, and thus spent my last full day in Chipata suffering (and sleeping) through the worst hangover of my life.

At least I had an entire day to recover before getting in a truck to drive to Lusaka. And I wasn't doing anything, anyway.

Friday, April 16, 2010


When we went to Europe a few years ago, we were just past security in the Amsterdam airport waiting to fly to London when a gang of terrorists got arrested trying to blow up a flight... from London to the United States. Now we're a week from flying back to Europe when a volcano over Iceland closes a massive swath of airspace over Europe.

At least for now it looks like the cloud will blow away by the time we travel, though who knows how long it will take for all those stranded people to move along.

Seriously, a volcano over Iceland?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Bags Are Packed

Like my mother insisting that her enormous cats aren't fat but fluffy, I have a remarkable capacity for denial in regards to moving.

At the end of any move, I always manage to convince myself that we just have a few little things left that will fit in a sandwich bag. Of course, those last little doodads wind up being a giant pile of randomly packed sacks with a DVD, a battery, three safety pins, a pen, half a bottle of ketchup, a mini screwdriver, and a banana.

This morning we hired a canter truck to bring said random junk to the PC house (where we will dump it in the free box!), so we have officially moved out of our place. We are now living out of suitcases until we get home. Woo!

Tax day

I want to take this day to thank the taxpayers of the United States for giving me and Trevor and our thousands of colleagues worldwide the opportunity to serve as Peace Corps Volunteers. Your (admittedly unintentional) tithing to the US government makes this experience possible for all of us.

I hope that our two years here has provoked some small positive change in Zambia, and possibly even in global peace and understanding. (Even if the positive is vastly outweighed by the karmic debt of killing thousands of innocent people elsewhere...) I know that our service here has had a huge impact on our lives, and that we could never have done it without your financial support.

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


We've started the painful process of saying goodbye to the surprisingly numerous friends we've made in Chipata.

Last night was an especially difficult, though delicious parting with our Italian friends/ my yoga buddy (cheese! lots of wine! gallons of pasta! onion foccicia! pastries!) made slightly more painful by the late hour and mass quantity of homemade strawberry liqueur.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I look forward to returning home not just because of my friends and
family and dog and taco bell. I also miss our cozy mr. Rogers
neighborhood with friends we can stop by and visit, a shop around the
corner where we can buy the sunday new york times, the picnic table in
our yard from which we often greet friends strolling by with their
kids and dogs.

I am especially missing that at this moment, as i sit outside our
locked gate, waving taxi dust out of my eyes as i wait for Trevor to
get home with our one key. If i were locked out in america, i could
walk to my parents' house or seek refuge with a neighbor- we know most
everybody on our street. Here, i swat mosquitos and get stared at by
all the strangers passing by.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Thank god It's friday, not that the arrival of weekend will change the
things driving me crazy today, like the power going out just as i put
muffins in the oven, the grocery store being out of cheese and coffee
going on three weeks now, having to get Trevor to inspect my neck to
confirm the giant lump is just a pimple and not a fly larvae hatched
under my skin. Lifting my feet so a scorpion can scuttle under the
couch, listening to whatever lives in the roof scrabble around above
my head, tucking the mosquito net around my bed only to find myself
trapped inside with a lizard.

Oh zambia, you are working my nerve.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Thanks to a harmonic convergence of electricity, repaired computer, and functioning internet, I was finally able to book the hotel rooms for the trip to Europe we'll take on our way home from Zambia. We'll travel from Lusaka to Johannesburg to Cairo to Amsterdam, then goof around in Utrecht, Hamburg, Bremen, and finally to Dublin and Chicago and HOME!

We are really stoked about the trip, but honestly our eyes are on the final prize, home. Home!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


As we get ready to leave the country, we're getting rid of all sorts of things that aren't all that easy to get rid of, like the random piles of currency we've managed to collect from our neighboring countries. (We'll keep the coins, of course. Trevor the collector.)

I just sold one little pile of cash to a friend who's going on vacation to South Africa next week. Not sure what to do with the Malawian kwacha, but we'll figure something out. And our remaining Zambian kwacha will turn into Euros for the vacation that we are starting to have real hotel reservations for, woo!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


A reader wrote in (woo!!!) to ask if Peace Corps finds jobs for us after we leave.


I wish. They do offer lots and lots of advice, and we get "non-competitive eligibility" in case we want to work for the federal government (it means we can skip some hoops in getting hired; our service here also counts as years served for vacation and retirement). Other than that, we're on our own.

And let me tell you, it ain't easy looking for a job from a place with intermittent electricity and dial-up speed internet that you pay for by the MB. This is why we're not really going to start looking until we get home in May. I hear the economy is getting better little by little anyway. Maybe by May there will actually be jobs.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Shoe sale

We've been emptying out our house by moving the stuff we're discarding over to the Peace Corps house at a rate of about one backpack load a day. Today I walked to the house carrying my old hiking boots (which I bought on the street for the Mt. Mulanje hike) that I was going to dump in the free box.

Instead, as soon as I passed through the market, a guy asked me if they were for sale. When I said yes, a crowd of taxi drivers gathered around me, and within two minutes I had sold them for half of what I originally paid. Sweet!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hoppy Easter!

Trevor traveled home from his bike trip by way of a bus ride that left at 2:45 am and made him puke three times-- and says it was worth it after doing the big ride. Having him home was the perfect way to celebrate Easter-- even if we didn't have a single piece of chocolate. (Wah!)

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Trevor Report

For Trevor, the best thing about our move to Chipata has been the fact that he has made Guy Friends. Since it's a looong holiday weekend, he and his two insane biking pals have taken off on an insane biking trip.

They left at 4 this morning. When he texted me at 10, they had stopped for tea (he's with English Richard, did you guess?) and had already cycled 90 km. He said it was great.

I'm so, so glad I'm not with them.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Some Things I Will Miss About Zambia

Eating fresh avocados just about every day.

Having ridiculous amounts of free time.

The smell of the night-blooming flowers in our yard drifting in the windows at about 8 every night.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Paid (and fed) up

I took Ashlee (my replacement) with me to pay the electric bill. We also stopped in to file a complaint with the manager. The guy who came to shut off the power was in the office, separating a giant stack of bills that had apparently been accumulating for months.

This was after the manager told me the billing and shut-off departments are different, so he had no way of knowing who had not received their bills since December, even as they went around shutting off service (and, coincidentally, collecting huge reconnection fees). This was also after he told me how they were so understaffed they couldn't possibly deliver all the bills. Even though they managed to find two guys to come turn off our service.

On a completely unrelated note, the power then followed its regular, random schedule and shut off for 14 hours.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Power struggle

The guys from the power company came today to shut off the Peace Corps house electricity despite the fact that we haven't gotten a bill since December. I managed to intimidate them into going away, though they did come back to ask for chocolate after they noticed the housekeeper
and guard having their post-lunch sweeties. That's when I stopped being polite and just about slapped the guy.

Speaking of power, I am officially a lame duck now that my replacement has arrived. At this moment she is riding all around Eastern Province to meetings I would have had to attend otherwise. Woo! That's power I am all too happy to hand over.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I spent this entire week waiting for and making increasingly frantic
calls about money to arrive so i could pay expenses for workshop
participants who came from all over the province to learn about hiv.

Naturally the money arrived on the last afternoon of the workshop, ten
minutes before the bank closed and exactly when i was scheduled to be
somewhere else, talking about writing with the snappy artist group.

By now you would think i'd have learned not to look forward to doing
something i enjoy, because between zambia and the federal government
my plans will always be ... adjusted.

Now It's saturday at least, and as a bonus the power didn't go out
until after i made coffee.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another crazy thing

Mr. Ngoma's brother-in-law has been accused of growing pot. When the cops came to arrest him on Monday, the brother fled. So instead, the cops arrested Mr. Ngoma's sister and her baby.

They have been sitting in jail all week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A crazy thing

I met this guy Mr. Daka through the writing group that I'm working with; he was also one of the arts council people who escorted us to see cave paintings last week.

The other day Trevor was drinking a beer with him and found out by accident that several years ago, Mr. Daka's sister went to the US to study. Unfortunately, she died while she was there. A kind sociology professor raised money to send her body back to Zambia.

Naturally, she was studying in my hometown, at the University of Missouri, the school where Trevor and I (plus my entire family) studied, and where we both worked (plus most of my family). Naturally, the professor that organized the fundraiser was also one Trevor studied with. Because this is, indeed, a very, very small world.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Maybe it's because we're short-timers in Zambia now, or maybe it's just the thing that happens to people who live in Africa for awhile (our long-time-Africa-living friends seem to bear this out), but I find that I am not nearly as riled up by Zambia's daily annoyances as I was two years ago.

The power, for example, has gotten bad again lately, but I no longer feel that an hour or two without electricity every night is even worth complaining about (as long as I've gotten dinner cooked by then, that is). Shoprite was out of cheese again for a couple of weeks, and I actually caught myself thinking that I depend too much on cheese so maybe it was a good thing. (OK, I did moan about it quite a bit as well. What can I say? I love cheese.)

The computer at the PC house got the blue screen of death and got shipped off to Lusaka. This has been somewhat inconvenient for work purposes but even worse for emailing, since our laptop internet has been jacked up for several months now-- I'm currently using the laptop, and the internet works but kicks me offline after every single page load. Maddening! But whatever.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Today I'm not going to write about how over Zambia I am; I am happy to report that my soon-to-be-former home and I currently enjoy a cautious detente that I hope will hold out for 33 more days.

The funeral next door is what's over, or at least the loudest part is. After three days of ritual wailing at 5 am and 9 pm, dozens of mourners piled into the backs of pickup trucks, and singing a soaring call-and-response tune, drove away with the body.

They returned several hours later, and people still fill the yard over there, chatting and cooking-- plumes of smoke are puffing up over the wall fence as they cook shima for the crowds. Now, instead of wailing, it sounds like a neighborhood barbeque.

Friday, March 19, 2010


One of our neighbors died. Nobody told us this, but we were able to deduce it from the subtle hints, such as the ritual wailing that began around 9:30 last night and again at 5 this morning.

Also, the neighbors have erected a giant tarp/tent in their yard, directly behind ours, so that the men can sit under it while the ladies chat on the verandah, just like a village funeral. Someone else arranged branches across the path in front of their house, a signal for cyclists to walk past and show respect.

Rituals like this make Zambia seem like such a civilized, community-minded place. Knowing about funerals makes me feel like we have picked up a bit about the culture over these past two years. (Sometimes I wonder!)

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The PC house pets are due for their shots this week and I had been fretting about taking them to the vet , because the vet is afraid of dogs. Sophie is the mellowest, most scaredy-cat dog I have ever met (she hides when strangers come to the gate) but still, the last time Sophie got her shots, the vet made us muzzle her and even then could barely drag himself close enough to give her the jab.

Also, I was not excited about putting the cat in a basket to drive her to the office (we would have walked Sophie; being in the truck makes her pee herself).

Imagine my relief when the agricultural supply guy in the down shops called to say he'd brought rabies medicine up from Lusaka. Simon and I were psyching ourselves up to give the shots when we found out that one of our volunteers (who, as luck would have it, arrived in town yesterday) used to work in a vet's office. Done!

[Edited to add: Cherie reports that when she gave the shot, Sophie peed herself. Since then, Sophie has been following Cherie around as if Cherie is her mother. Go figure!]

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Happy St. Patrick's Day! We celebrated by driving around with the district culture officer and some other Zambians to some EP historical sites, like the site of a battle between the British troops and Ngoni tribe back around 1902, way out in the bush and marked with a concrete slab that's had two of its three informational plaques pried off and stolen. Oh, Zambia!

Also way out in the bush we visited the sites of several ancient (nobody knows how ancient, maybe 400 years?) rock paintings, which frankly were pretty disappointing non-representational blocks and faded shapes that could have been animals or birds or random scratches.

On the plus side, we chanced upon a female PCV who had nearly finished biking from her own site to a friends' about 60 km away. This blew the minds of our Zambian colleagues way more than the rock paintings did ours.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Happy daylight savings time!

Nothing has sprung foward here-- we continue to enjoy our 12-ish hour days, especially since Friday was a holiday so we had three of them in a row to enjoy.

I marked the end of the long weekend by strolling down to the vegetable market, which is blissfully empty on Sundays, and buying potatoes, onions, eggplants, rape, and green beans. On the way home I chatted with a friendly guy on a bike and managed to once again avoid conversion.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


The rule around here seems to be that if a neighbor's fruit hangs into your yard, it's yours to pick. Because I really wanted to make lemon bars to take to the movie party, I decided that it would be ok for me to use a rake and coax a few off our neighbor's tree. The first one (gorgeously yellow and the side of a softball) fell on the wrong side of the fence dang it, but I got enough to make the lemon bars. The bars were delicious.

We also enjoyed banana pancakes made with little green bananas I bought from ladies who sell them just in front of the dambo where they grow. And fresh avocado on toast, which is unbelievably delicious.

I'm going to miss fresh fruit.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Let them eat cake

The power went out while I was cooking up vegetables and General Tso's soy pieces for Richard's visit Thursday night. Lately when the power goes out, it's only for a little while, 20 minutes or so. So we drank wine and waited.

After nearly an hour we decided against starving to death and lit the camp stove. Trevor watched the stir-fry on the stoop outside while I ran back and forth with bowls of chopped vegetables and sauces. I had boiled the rice already, so I wrapped it in a blanket and let it finish cooking on its own.

Luckily I had already baked a cake for dessert.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Trevor (Book) Report

After noticing the huge imbalance in the book roster (at left), Trevor complained that it looks like he doesn't read, at least compared to me.

Let it be known that Trevor does read. Every day! However, I don't keep track of what he reads as well as I do my own input. Also, he tends to choose dense, chewy books that take weeks and weeks to finish (plus he is a thorough/slow reader who actually looks up words he doesn't know instead of skipping over them like everyone else on the planet). I tend to be a skimmer, plus I freely abandon books that aren't working for me, plus I try to balance heavy stuff with quick novels, plus I am a natural evening person so I often end up reading way into the night while Trevor is sleeping like a normal person.

So there you have it. Trevor reads! Everybody reads! Three cheers for reading!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


In Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up, Norman Fischer quotes Rabbi Barukh's commentary on the 119th Psalm ("I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not thy commandments from me").

Barukh writes, "He whom life drives into exile and who comes to a land alien to him has nothing in common with the people there and not a soul he can talk to. But if a second stranger appears, even though he may come from quite a different place, the two can confide in each other, and live together henceforth, and cherish each other. And had they not both been strangers, they would never have known such close companionship."

Reminds me of making friends in Peace Corps. (Not that we're in exile.)


Trevor was in heaven yesterday: he got to hang out with the Smithsonian's curator of American music (and fellow jazz nut) while interviewing him for a piece the U.S. Embassy will send to Zambian radio stations.

After the interview, we got to bond with the jazz guy and the Embassy staffer over lunch and our common Midwestern roots.

In the evening, we attended the main event, a powerpoint talk and live solo performance that featured two odes to our home state (Kansas City and St. Louis Blues). Turns out the jazz guy is not only a historian, but an impressive pianist. Also, the Embassy hosted a reception with free beer. Thanks, taxpayers!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mail, part two

Over the last two years, we have also been continuously impressed by the Tanya and Burkemper greeting machines. Despite having to spend triple on international postage, these aunts, cousins and ex-stepmothers never let up their relentless barrage of birthday, Easter, Christmas, and St. Patrick's Day cards, usually accompanied by Cardinals updates and snaps of the ever-expanding clan. (And in the case of Tanya, always punctuated by the appropriate Peanuts holiday sticker.)

And of course my parents, who even few weeks have plastered Jesus stickers all over a box, stuffed every last space with expired holiday candy, emptied the junk drawer, hunted down the right sunglasses or headlamps or running shoes, and forwarded a thick stack of mail and magazines. Even if they have to lug the box on vacation and find a post office in Colorado.

I shouldn't be too surprised by this kindness and devotion. After all, my mom did the exact same thing for six months while I hiked the Appalachian Trail 15 years ago (and thank god she remembers the soap-flavored mashed potato incident and never tried to mail Tide to Africa).

But still... Wow.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: Thanks. A lot.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mail, in retrospect

While we've been in Zambia, mail has become much more than just mail. It's been a transformative experience for us, two people who hate asking for help who were suddenly forced to rely on the kindness of other people for our dark chocolate, Skittles, People magazine and KoolAid fixes. (OMG, are we PMSing teenage crackheads or what?)

Without having to survive cancer, we've been able to experience the most amazing outpouring of love and care from people we never realized cared so much. Going to the post office has become our repeated Sally Field moment: "You like us! You really like us!"

It's been wonderful but not all that surprising to get thoughtful packages from old friends like Heather and Grace. But I was knocked flat the first time I opened an envelope from Lea, a pal from grad school. I was well aware of her generosity, but I never dreamed she would unleash the full force of it on us. Knowing how much love, effort and postage went into her mail to us (she once covered the entire surface of a giant padded envelope with Star Wars stamps) was sometimes the kick in the butt we needed to leave the house and face another day.

We were also pleasantly shocked by the ladies in my bookclub and people like Rebecca from yoga. Apparently for us slow learners it takes moving 10,000 miles away to appreciate much a part of the social network we truly are. Thanks to these caring souls, we feel more connected to our hometown than ever before, not to mention proud that we can be people through whom others can live vicariously as they drive carpools for the next generation of PCVs.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Chipata recently paved a road leading up to the market. The smooth new tarmac is framed by deep drainage ditches on either side.

As Trevor and I walked down the newly paved street the other day, we noticed several people taking advantage of the garbage-strewn runoff. Two guys were rinsing their bike taxis, one was washing his hair (with soap!) and two more were vigorously scrubbing potatoes clearly destined for the chips stand across the street.

"But then they fry them!" Trevor said. (Later our friend Simo said the exact same thing.)

Still, I think I'm going to take a little break from fries.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Things you learn to do yourself in Zambia, part 3712

Home haircut.

My hair was really getting on my nerves (last trim was in December back in America), so after way too much coffee I hunkered down with the sharp little scissors and went for it.

Seems like a terrible idea until you realize 1. no matter how bad it is, who cares? I live in Africa. and 2. it only has to look decent from the front because the only evidence of this haircut will pictures, and people tend to photograph faces instead of the backs of other people's heads. (Worst case scenario: I deny it's me!)

OK, I did stay indoors until Trevor got home to even up the back a little, but he said it wasn't that bad.

Friday, March 5, 2010

(Don't) Call me

Detail-oriented readers may have noticed that my cell number has disappeared from the blog.

This is because I started getting Zam-paged every 15 minutes, starting Tuesday afternoon. (Zam-paging is when you call somebody, let it ring just long enough for your number to display, and hang up in hopes that the callee will call you back using their own talk time. As a matter of principle, I never, ever call anybody back who's Zam-paged me, especially strange numbers.)

After being paged approximately twenty gazillion times, I was losing my mind. Because there is no legit way to block phone numbers here, I finally paid a PCV a Tootsie Pop to call crazy lady and pretend to be a phone company official set to cut off her sim card. Although she does not speak English, apparently this worked. She hasn't called in several hours, at least.

Still, I took my number off the blog, Just In Case.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


When I was home in December, my friend Gennie (who happens to be the roving art teacher for my official Peace Corps school-match partner class of third graders) gave me a tutorial on a simple finger-weaving project using cardboard looms to make little pouches.

Back in Chipata, I gathered a bunch of funky yarn and sprung the idea on the art club at the orphan school. Some of the kids are natural weavers, all of them love fingering the fuzzy yarns and choosing just the right combination, and they were all completely thrilled (and a bit skeptical) that they could take the pouches home.

I had worried about not having enough materials for all the kids, but these resourceful small people don't let a lack of "proper" cardboard looms or scissors slow them down. We used random pieces of cardstock, they broke the yarn with their hands, and they went bananas. It wore me out completely (I remain staunchly Not A Kid Person) but was the best two hours I've spent all week.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fresh air

I spent 10 hours driving around a small patch of Eastern Province checking on houses that will soon be occupied by volunteers who are currently in training. While I do not enjoy missing lunch and bumping around on soggy gravel roads all day, I got homesick for the smell of wood smoke, the sound of kids laughing and animals milling around, the slow rhythm of village days.

Also, I knitted an entire wrist warmer using a quick Martha Stewart pattern. Bring on the winter!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Over it

While we were buying house supplies in the down shops this morning, a guy came up to the truck pretending there was some problem with the tire. Meanwhile, his friend grabbed Trevor's bag off the seat and ran into the alley.

The dozens of people watching did nothing until I started pitching a fit in the road. Then a bunch of men took off after the thief, tracked him deep into the alleys (where he had tossed Trevor's bag after realizing it had nothing but a calendar and a bottle of juice), and beat the holy crap out of him. Then dozens of guys crowded around us wanting reward money to go drink. (Seriously, they said this; I didn't just assume it.)

Also: unusually rude harassment by a group of guys while I was out running this morning (they are more bold in groups) and several annoyingly persistent beggars. If we weren't thisclose to going home anyway, I might have called Lusaka today and thrown it in. So, so over it.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Post bus

A volunteer who was traveling upcountry from Lusaka gave me some terrible news: A Postbus overturned on the Great East Road when the driver was speeding and lost control. Four people were killed. And the mail went everywhere, in the rain.


Friday, February 26, 2010


More reasons you don't want to go to a Zambian hospital: After smashing a cockroach on the wall, I sat down with the sick Volunteer. The only decoration in the room was a poster illustrating a variety of fungal skin infections, including a rarely photographed "rear" orifice.

The Volunteer was already swooning and nauseated; luckily he couldn't see the poster.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Because I've dropped my phone so often lately, the face got so scuffed up I could no longer read text messages.

Luckily, every other tuck shop in Chipata sells cell phone accessories, so for 10 pin I was able to not only buy a new knock-off Nokia case, but I even upgraded to a powder-blue version. The best part was the guy in the kiosk insisted on installing the new case for me, and while he was at it, he trimmed the stray plastic bits with a bare razor and detailed the phone with an old toothbrush. He even used a mini screwdriver to scrape the gunk out of the crevices.

If they sold Windex here, I'd take him a bottle.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bawk bawk

Regular readers will recall that Trevor's birthday lunch last week featured the house rooster.

This week, Mr. Ngoma decided we needed a rooster after all, if we want chicks instead of just eggs. According to the household staff, this is exactly what we want. (I kind of wish they had told me this before we decided to eat the rooster, but whatever.)

We decided this at lunch, and as the ladies and I were merrily embroidering on the veranda (I know, is this 1800 or what?) some guys appeared (sent by Trevor and Ngoma, who were walking the dog together) with a basket full of roosters, 15 pin each ($3). Stella (the guard) pawed through the sqwaking birds to choose the best one-- she rejected white, brown, and spotted ones in favor of a blue-black guy who mewls like a cat. She chucked him into the chicken yard, where he was immediately set upon by 8 grumpy females. Last time I checked, he was hiding in the house.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


One thing I will miss about Chipata is strolling down to the vegetable market (called the Saturday market but open every day) to fill a bag with healthy deliciousness for practically nothing. Today I bought fresh beans, rape, tomatoes, avocado, onions, and green peppers. I spent 12 pin, about $2.60 by my calculations.

Although I continue to tire of the running commentary that follows me everywhere ("Taxi? Taxi?" "How! Ah! You!"), I am thoroughly charmed by the smiley old lady selling the beans, the friendly old guy with taped up glasses who has a knack for growing things muzungus like (sometimes he has lettuce!), the woman who looks like a drag queen and talks with a high, squeaky voice. I love that to get to the vegetables, I pass through rows of prom dresses, jumpers, and warm-up pants and heaps of used underwear, donated backpacks, old shoes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rain, rain

Rainy season has finally quit dithering around and moved fully into/ onto Eastern Province. The roads are soupy, the skies are gloomy, and everything is moist. I arrived home to find cloth covered in mold and soap sprouting little crystals of... soap?

Zambia has become its lushest, most tropical self. Outside the office window, a rose bush is sending blooms up past the roof, accompanied by a rainbow of blossoms that I've never seen outside a florist's arrangement. Yesterday we drove through grass taller than the truck. I feel like I'm living in a surreal movie set, Avatar-style.

(Also, the house is currently filled with female PCVs, which has brought with it a slumber-party vibe, mellow music, gossipy magazines, and lots of baking. I am not complaining.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Home at last

After leaving lusaka at 6:45 am, two Land Cruisers (and one half-hour wait on the roadside), one taxi where a stinky guy sat on half the front bucket seat with me (straddling the gear shifter), and walking two miles home via Richard's place only to find he'd unexpectedly gone to Malawi with our gate key, I am home sweet home sipping lemonade and waiting for the water heater to brew me up a bath.

We delivered the newbies to their first site visits and besides some misplaced eggs and a temporarily missing tarp, things went remarkably smoothly. It's fun being around the shiny new folks all full of questions and first day of schoolness. At the same time, I am so happy to be alone in my quiet, familiar, tidy little house.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Today marks the start of the short window each year when Trevor and I are the same age.

Yes, it's my man's birthday, and thinking about his special day has me thinking about how lucky I am to spend all of mine (well, most of them) with him.

I'm not there today, but we'll be back together Sunday. Meanwhile, Ester killed the house rooster for his birthday lunch. (Kinda glad I wasn't there for that.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010


The new folks arrived today- seven hours ahead of schedule! Apparently
they all knew the timetable but nobody in washington thought to inform
anyone in lusaka, so in mid afternoon the country director got a call
from a newbie at the airport saying hey, you all gonna pick us up or
what? Lots of scrambling and quick changing into matching shirts but
it all worked out and now we get to go to sleep instead of being at
the airport until midnight. This will make tomorrow much easier for

I'm also feeling good because i get to go home sunday because the
meetings i was supposed to have got pushed back because washington got
way behind on accounting during the snow dump so there's no money
here. Thus I will get to see my friend Trevor for more of the short
window of time we are the same age this year- that window starting
tomorrow, his birthday!

Monday, February 15, 2010


To celebrate Valentine's Day and his upcoming birthday (which I'm going to miss because I'm in Lusaka), Trevor baked a cake. I ate the burnt part and he ate the raw part.

Also, I bought him a little plastic Smurf doll that we had both been eyeing in the market for weeks. The guy could sense how much we wanted it, because the first price he offered was 50 pin (almost $10), but by this week I got it down to 5,000. Sold!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Trevor Report

Trevor baked bread, and it turned out remarkably well, considering our oven seems to run about 50 degrees hot. (Unfortunately, Trevor also left the electric stove on when the power went out this morning, and then I put a bag of macaroni on the closed lid of the stove, and then the power came back on...)

Trevor has been getting serious with speed workouts as he gears up for the sub-3:30 he plans to run at the marathon we signed up for in May, mere weeks after our return to Americaland.

He's also been planting some of the trees he's grown from seed. Trevor Appleseed!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Failure to Communicate

As illustrated by a series of recent minor misunderstandings, I realize I need to work harder on describing things both on the blog and here in Chipata.

For example, somehow I have led readers to believe that Chipata is the kind of place that might have a nice hotel with a fitness room featuring treadmills. Sadly, Chipata is not that kind of place. Chipata is the kind of place where the one and only grocery store is often out of cheese for weeks on end, and where when the power goes out at night they just let all the frozen stuff thaw out.

There are nice guesthouses in Chipata, and by nice I mean there is consistent hot water, no prostitutes loiter in the bar, and the mosquito nets are intact. Even the nicest place still serves instant coffee, though.

Also, I clearly need to study up on the characteristics of ninjas because after a lunchtime discussion and viewings of Kill Bill vols. 1 and 2 last week, Mr. Ngoma, our gardener, has come to believe there are ninjas in his neighborhood. I mean who knows? Maybe there are.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Near sighting

President Banda made me late for work.

When I was cycling to the office past the golf course, I saw a couple hundred people staring at a pair of giant helicopters, so I stopped with them. One of the dozens of policemen around confirmed that the whirlybird was for Rupiah, who was going to take off in it "any time from now."

Since I hadn't planned to stand around in the blazing sun, I had been lax with my sunscreen, After about 10 minutes my arm started to feel nuked and I reluctantly gave up on my presidential sighting. When I heard the helicopter take off an hour later, I was glad I hadn't waited, but I'm sure most of the people standing there did. Zambians have what seems like a limitless capacity to wait. They go into suspended animation or something, especially on the bus.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


This post is in honor of my Grandma Wibbie, who passed away Friday night at the age of 98.

I like to believe she was warmly received in heaven by my grandfather, her dad and mother (who died when she was a little girl), her sisters Doris, Annie Lea and Johnnie D, her best friends Mildred and Porter, and the scores of other family and friends who went before her.

When I was a kid, I loved staying at my grandparents' house in the summer, riding out to the garden in their old pickup truck to pick strawberries, staying up late to watch the news and weather, cruising the aisles of the small-town WalMart. Wibbie had been a school lunch lady, so she knew everybody-- and their parents and their kids. Until her late 70s, she got up early to go to the senior center, where she cooked for "the old people."

When my grandparents arrived at our house every Christmas Eve, it would be as if Santa himself had pulled into the driveway. Out of their boat of a Buick would spill laundry baskets full of presents, and beer flats stacked with homemade fudge, divinity, molasses cookies, strawberry preserves, apple butter, pickled beets.

Although she suffered from dementia for the past several years, Wibbie stayed fiesty and funny until the end. If she hadn't broken her hip at Thanksgiving, I have no doubt she would have lived to 100 and beyond. I'm glad she's passed peacefully along.

Still, I'm really going to miss her.

Friday, February 5, 2010

An Update

When I jogged (very slowly and painfully, but I have no choice since Trevor talked me into signing up for a half marathon this May) through the golf course this morning, I saw that the Guy is still sleeping in his Spot. He had a lot less stuff with him today, which is puzzling. Someone seems to have swept around him. Given that most of the dirt here (driveways and front yards, for example) is regularly tidied by broom, I guess this is possible, though I've never seen anyone sweeping the golf course before.

Also, I am having one of those days that makes it hard to keep my sense of humor about Peace Corps and Zambia, and it would probably be cathartic to write all about it but I would almost definitely get in so much trouble I would end up home much earlier than May, so let's just say that I have some concerns about the way our tax dollars are being spent overseas and I have had it up to HERE with leering and commentary about my exercise habits and marital status.

This is one of those times that it would be nice for running to be a stress-reliever rather than a blood-pressure-raiser. Ah well.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Although I have dabbled in everything from jewelry making to ceramics, my craft of choice in America was sewing. Since I knew I probably wouldn't have a sewing machine in Africa, before I left to come here I decided that I would dedicate my time here to knitting, a craft I never made time for before.

Sock knitting appeals to me because sock yarn is small and relatively cheap, handknit socks are expensive but incredibly cool and customizable, and because my feet are bigger than the average woman's but smaller than the average man's (in other words, difficult to fit).

Before Zambia, I took a couple of sock-knitting classes, bought needles the diameter of toothpicks and sock yarn as thin as dental floss, and hung out with the incredibly patient and friendly knitters at the Weavers and Spinners Guild. (Also, those folks can bake.)

When I landed here, I had knit exactly one pair of socks, which turned out so misshapen that they would have only fit a massive deformed elf. Maybe. Still, my lack of skill and experience didn't stop me from setting myself the challenge of knitting a pair of socks per month in 2009.

Foolish as it may have been, this week I finished. Ok, it took me until the early days of February, but still. Twelve pairs of socks, done.


I'd post pictures, but the internet here continues to be terrible and expensive wireless/dialup, so you're going to have to take my word for it for now. Next up: a scarf.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


This afternoon Mr. Ngoma briefed me on advances in the aphid wars, his ongoing effort to rid the garden of the pests attacking our cabbage and tomato plants. Since we stubbornly refuse to buy him the pesticides he wants, he's been researching other methods.

Today he had learned of three: sprinkling salt along the rows, arranging broken bottles in a defensive line, and planting chamba, a local variety of marijuana. Given the Peace Corps attitude about the People's Plant, Ngoma and I decided he should try the first two for starters.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The sleeping man

Since I left my bike at the office last week, I strolled to the office yesterday morning by way of the walking shortcut. Midway through the golf course, I passed one of Chipata's itinerant crazy men, draped in plastic bottles and dirty rags, sleeping (or possibly dead) on one of the paths that bisects the grass.

Although he was surrounded by what looked like charred bits of firewood and was himself a color that suggested he may have been recently burnt, I didn't think much of it because it's not that unusual to see dirty men sleeping randomly here.

But when I passed through the golf course again on my way home from the office, in the heat of the afternoon, he was still resting there on his back, a peaceful (dead?) expression on his face.

If this had been Trevor, I would have crept over to see if his chest was moving (as I had in fact done that very morning when Trevor slept unusually late). But having been unexpectedly grabbed by Chipata's lurching crazy men on several occasions, I kept my distance.

At dinner, I asked Trevor if he had come home through the golf course. He had, and he'd seen the man.

"How was he sleeping?"
"Curled up."
"On his side, or on his back?"

He was on his side, and thus, I surmised, alive enough to change position every few hours. Also, this morning when I passed the golf course, I could see even from the tarmac that he was sitting up. (I suspect he's sleeping off a bad case of malaria; it seems that everybody is sick these days.)

Thus we have been saved answering the question: what do you do in Zambia upon observing a dead man on the golf course?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Back to reality

Two weeks on the road and we're finally back in Chipata. It felt good to sleep in our own bed last night-- so good, in fact, that we both slept about 12 hours. How can riding in a truck all day be so exhausting? The theory in our house is one day without coffee= comatose humans.

From two weeks of vacationing, movies, and Indian restaurants, it's back to bill paying, cockroach erradication, and book balancing. Luckily, it also means dinner with friends and lunching with the ladies.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Trevor Report

Trevor's purchases at the Dutch Reform Craft Market:

2 cups filter coffee
1 slice fluffy cheesecake topped with strawberry jam
2 cilantro plants
1 humongous sausage

We also chatted with about 20 PC friends (the craft market is around the corner from the PC office), plus one of the Embassy folks who in March will escort a jazz pianist to Eastern Province for a concert. (They may have to bring their own piano.)

A successful morning. Afternoon plans: Avatar on the big screen!

Friday, January 29, 2010

"Treat" is relative

Even though we're in divesting mode, I couldn't resist the urge to stock up on goodies at the ginormous grocery stores in Lusaka.

... Although honestly, after seeing the Nutella and Doritos other PCVs were buying, I don't feel too decadent about my peaches, bran cereal, strawberry tea, and wheat gluten. Even though it's not too crazy, the stuff still feels like a treat since we can't get it in Chipata. And though we get plenty of candy in the mail, people don't often send bran cereal. (I can't imagine why!)

Speaking of packages/ treats: if any of the newbies are reading this, bring bike panniers with you! You'll thank me the first time you have to bike back to site with a bunch of town food and/or mail.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Close of Service Conference closed

After candlelight ceremonies, handing out of certificates, many discussion panels and lots of reflection, we ate the last of the fancy food and cruised back to Lusaka from the luxury lodge this afternoon.

Trevor opted to ride in the bus rather than a cruiser, so he's still bumping down the dusty road while I check my email in the office and wait for him. A few more days until we're safely back in Chipata. I'm starting to get antsy to sleep in my own bed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


To honor the fact that most of our group has made it this far, Peace Corps has brought us to a fancy wildlife preserve/ resort outside Lusaka (Chaminuka) to swim, watch ostriches, lions and elephants, and eat ourselves silly. It's pretty great, and there's free wifi that might actually be working (we'll know if you can read this message).

Of course, since this is Peace Corps, there's also a heavy dose of flip chart paper with sticky tack, reflection questions, and overambitious schedules that inevitably drag way beyond the allotted time but still manage to include lots of waiting around.

For me and Trevor, we're ready to move on down the road, but it's rough saying goodbye to such good friends. Just like with real family, we got thrown in randomly two years ago but have been through some unique hardships and joys together (puke-inducing cruiser rides! malaria tests! no water!). We share the kind of bond that makes you think we have to be friends forever, though I know we'll drift apart. Knowing it's the end of an era makes these last few days together a gift.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We enjoyed Livingstone immensely: homemade pumpkin ravioli at a restaurant run by an authentic Italian, a decent (and cheap!) massage, a relaxing cruise on the Zambezi.

Unfortunately, the ride back from Livingstone took place in the non-luxury bus that lacked air conditioning, and it was really hot. However, the conductor was willing to play my new Star Wars all-in-one DVD, so we enjoyed the first two episodes before rolling into Lusaka. They may not be as good as the originals, but it's still better than the crap kung fu movies we did not enjoy on the trip down.

Upon our arrival in Lusaka, we got to stay with friends who make interesting conversation and excellent hippie food. Plus they have friendly dogs and a washing machine-- only the second time our clothes have been mechanically washed during our entire time in Zambia. All in all, a very satisfactory transition in to the next phase of this week's adventure: the Close of Service conference.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Traveling with Trevor

Since this is our last voyage together in Zambia, It's fitting that
Trevor and i are basking in air conditioned comfort on the luxury bus
to Livingstone.

Yesterday we reunited in nyimba following Trevor's gardening workshop
and cruised into lusaka with his soggy laundry to stay in a decent
guesthouse where we enjoyed the cable tv and free breakfast. Now It's
onward on a rutted road that makes knitting impossible. Trevor is
trying to drown out Zambian gospel music with tunes from his newly
rebuilt mp3 player. He seems excited about billy bragg and john prine-
clearly he hasn't found the william shatner songs yet.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I realized as I crossed the final items off my long (and seemingly impossible) to-do list that a big cause of this week's sour mood was my feeling antsy about the upcoming trip. (Well, that and finding out that the founder of Taco Bell died. That was a low point.)

But the internet is currently working at our house (small miracle!) at the same time the power is on (!!), and I not only managed to find the name of the luxury bus company to Livingstone, but also made online reservations, which you can't even make for an airplane in this country. (I also have a ticket for my bus trip tomorrow, empty promises from the conductor to save me a seat in the front, and hotel reservations for every night in the coming week. Oh, and snacks.)

Those of you who have never traveled in Africa should know that Zambia laughs at people who make travel plans (yes, right now I'm remembering getting on a plane to Missouri in December wearing long pants I scrounged out of the free box, my bag full of swimsuits since I had thought, naively, that I was actually headed to Zanzibar), but at least for this one moment I can relax in the knowledge that I've done everything humanly possible to ensure that this week's trip goes smoothly.



I don't mind the occasional night or two at home alone, though last night I did padlock the bars on our front door for the first time ever.

But it's really hard to use up leftovers without a hungry husband around to help. And I tend to cook way too much food. (Plus another not-so-pretty loaf of bread.) One more night, then we'll ride off into the sunset together. . . on the bus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Sorry to have been absent this past week. Even though I rarely get any comments, I know people read this blog because the geeky analytic tools and my mom tell me so. I know how annoying it is to follow a blog that goes silent.

Honestly, I'm not feeling the love for Zambia right now. This week has brought a leaky roof, power outages, internet difficulties, belly-bombing greasy food, banking mysteries, compost full of fruit flies, volunteers needing medical attention, laundry that goes sour instead of drying, no mail, and all sorts of other petty frustrations. Nothing is major, but everything is annoying.

I don't want to be the type of blogger who complains constantly, especially since I don't want to freak out our new folks joining us in a month. So I've zipped my lips. But I'm trying to adjust my attitude and I'll be back. That's a promise!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Trevor Report

Trevor left on the 6:30 am bus this morning for Nyimba to help another volunteer lead a gardening workshop at a clinic. I'll meet him there Thursday, and from there, we'll travel to Livingstone for a quick look at Victoria Falls, and then to Lusaka for our close-of-service conference at a fancy resort.

Because he's out of range for cell service (against his protests, I did buy him a new phone after his got stolen while I was in America), he hasn't received the message that I was able to re-load his MP3 player after our computer mysteriously deleted the entire thing and then refused to recognize it. He's going to be really happy about that, though it's a drag that I managed the feat only after he boarded the bus.

It's a strange thing, loading somebody else's music player. I tried to add music I thought he'd like, but couldn't resist amusing myself with the occasional song that will make him reach for the fast forward button.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New math

Yesterday afternoon Marco stopped by following the first day of a new school year. He was feeling proud because all of last year's seventh graders passed their exams to continue to eighth grade, most of them with high enough marks to get invited to boarding school-- and these lucky kids can actually go to boarding school, since Marco's organization will sponsor them until they graduate. The pass percentage is an incredible achievement, considering that the average school probably gets rates in the single digits.

Every January, Marco admits a new crop of first graders to the orphan school. As kids drop out, class sizes shrink dramatically-- an unfortunate necessity because even though the classes share the building in shifts, they operate out of a tiny old house (though they plan to start building a classroom block when the rains end). Last year Marco had two first grade classes with 25 kids each, but only 13 seventh graders.

Monday, 477 people showed up wanting space for an orphan. Marco could only accept 50. Even though most orphans around here find shelter with extended family, it's the rare guardian who has money to send the orphan to school. Sadly, this means 427 kids (in one neighborhood alone!) just lost their chance for an education.


I have never been a natural morning person, but being so close to the equator makes it somewhat easier to get up at a reasonable hour. As people at home complain about mid-afternoon nightfall and waking up in the dark, we appreciate our bright mornings and 80-degree temperatures.

Our hut in the village had two tiny windows, so it was perpetually dim inside (nice on blazing afternoons; depressing otherwise), but our house in Chipata has gloriously huge windows (albeit ones covered in prison-esque burglar bars) that let in the very welcome morning sunshine.

One more thing we'll miss about Zambia. (Trevor says he's ready to feel winter again... we'll see about that!)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Powers of observation

This morning, while standing in line to do my (completely voluntary) civic duty by paying the television license fee, I took the opportunity to observe my fellow post office patrons.

Mwape, the guy who mans the package counter, was nattily dressed as always, wearing a lavender shirt with cufflinks (cufflinks are the dress shirt norm here, don't ask me why) and a grey vest with a Nehru collar. And the million-year-old man in front of me in line was wearing a newsboy cap and blazer (with tiny ants marching across his shoulder), though he did not have any shoes.

When he shifted to sign a ledger, he dropped his cane and I picked it up. As he turned to take it from me, I noticed that under his blazer, the old man was wearing a black heavy metal t-shirt and an oversized crucifix.

Thanks, Zambia!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Wheat bread

While I have recently completed some serious vegetarian magic (tofu! soysage! homemade granola!), my forays into whole-wheat breadmaking look more like experiments in home fossil-making.

However, after a demystifying chat with Richard of the solar oven and no measuring cup method, I'm ready to try again, this time using more yeast and more water, recipe be damned! Also, I'm feeling optimistic after tonight's no-knead pizza crust turned out fluffy and chewey, with a hint of sourdough tang (from the 24 hour+ rise, no doubt).

I would love to be able to decide on the spur of the moment to pop downtown for a shrimp and onion pie at Tony's, but I also love the fact that because I don't have that option, I'm developing some serious chops in the kitchen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dear Newbies,

A friend's picture popped up on Facebook today, causing me to recall the day, exactly two years ago, that I took my best work buddy to coffee and told him I was giving my notice that afternoon so I could join the Peace Corps. Unfortunately, it was his birthday, and I felt awful giving what to him was pretty bad news, though I was thrilled (and so nervous I felt like puking for about 6 straight weeks).

Anyway, this makes me think about the RED and LIFE 2010 volunteers who are currently packing up their own lives in preparation of joining us over here, and since I know that at least one of them is reading this blog (hi!), I want to offer some advice.

Breathe! (That's my first piece of advice.) It's all going to be fine!

My second advice is: make sure your mail-sending people know about the post office's international priority envelopes and boxes. This will save them tons of money on postage as well as post-office hassles regarding weight. If you have five minutes between now and Feb. 17, go to the PO yourself and pick up a bunch of them for your mom; they're free!

See you at the airport! Love, Lisa

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cleaning out

Knowing that we leave in three months has freed me to winnow down my
bookshelf, clothes, and even the pantry.

I know it's supposed to be super healthy, but honestly whose idea was
green tea? Why did people ever decide to drink something that tastes
like boiled yard clippings?

Well, hopefully a volunteer likes it, since I dumped a bunch in the
free box. Plenty of Kool Aid left for me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I heart electricity, part two

Another great thing about electricity is how it allows for leftovers. OK, we did occasionally finish up last night's dinner for breakfast in the village, but an unfortunate and explosive incident with unrefrigerated stir-fry caused me to respect the perils of foodborne bacteria.

But in Chipata we have a fridge! So I can cook giant vats of things for us to enjoy over several days, like the potato soup and chocolate chip cookie dough we finished up last night. The only time this backfires is when I make something eh and we are forced to keep eating it for days and days. At least when something is truly horrible (like the grilled eggplant that turned black and soggy), we can simply chuck it and know it will make nice compost.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Strange luxury

One unanticipated luxury of living in town with electricity is that I can now use DVDs on my computer to exercise behind the curtains of my own private living room.

This is fantastic because although I want and need to exercise, there's no such thing as a gym membership in Chipata, and I have come to loathe running in a place that is always muddy or dusty and where my every (outdoor) move provokes unwanted commentary from the hundreds of people who everywhere I want to be, no matter how ungodly early it is.

Trevor loves to mock that I'm jumping around to the 30-day shred, but I am thrilled to have a way to burn off a little of the stale, melted, and/or pulverized Halloween candy I can't seem to resist.

It may seem like my life would be easier if I could just resist the candy, but unfortunately this does not seem to be an option for me. Plus, life without the occasional mini Butterfinger is just not worth living. So thank god for Buns of Steel.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Oh, Monday

It might just be a symptom of my brain overload due to the zillions of Very Important Things on my to-do list this hectic Monday, but I've been carrying on a conversation with a friend via SMS that just included the message "I already did!"

I have absolutely no idea what that refers to. And somehow that seems so appropriate for my day.

On an unrelated note: Is Tracy Chapman one of those "famous in Belgium" kind of people? I know some people in America like her, but in Zambia it's ridiculous. She is a favorite artist of both the people across the street who like to share their really loud stereo with the entire neighborhood (same song! on repeat! for hours!) and the volunteers who control the ipod station at the Peace Corps house. I can't get away from Tracy Freaking Chapman! And I really really want to!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Zurphy's Law

I know this isn't unique to Zambia, but why is it that toilet problems always happen on Sundays? At ungodly hours (like, oh, 7 am)? On days that I was really hoping to stay home and finish watching Project Runway?


Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fresh start

After a trip to the grocery store/ vegetable market, I spent the rest of the second day of 2010 unleashing my inner compulsive on our kitchen pantry: scrubbing away the sticky stuff on the shelves, consolidating opened spices, color coding the Kool-Aid, all while listening to a book on CD (thanks Susan!!). It was a fun and cathartic, if somewhat pathetic, way to kick off the last few months of our time in Zambia, especially since one of my New Year goals is to subvert my usual hoarding tendencies and enjoy all the fancy foods people have sent us.

To meet our goal, we'll have to drink a lot of red dye and eat a lot of Indian food. This is just fine with me.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New year

We enjoyed a quiet evening at home last night, except for some
neighborhood firework explosions, so we'd be fresh this morning for a
bike ride. Trevor wanted to deliver some seedlings to a farmer he met
on a previous ride, an hour or so away, Trevor said.

After we clocked more than two hours with no mystery farmer, the sun
started cooking us so we found a random guy who promised to plant the
trees and we headed home., with a stop at the takeaway for cokes and
snacks of course.

And the water and power were both on so we got hot showers! An all
around auspicious start to the new year, for sure.