Friday, April 30, 2010

Fleas

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

Queenie

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

Baggage

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

Returning

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

Anxiety

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

Curses?

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

Goodbyes

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

Gate

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

Nervous

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

Booked!

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

Divesting

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

Job

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

Ha!

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.