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.