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.