A Windy Distraction

I hadn’t done much except stare at my computer today when I realized I needed a distraction. So instead of watering the garden, I decided to go for a walk. South Dakota winter is right around the corner (I can feel it in my waters) and that usually brings well below zero windchills and feet upon feet of snow. The weather has been warming up again (and is forecasted to continue over the course of the week) so I need to enjoy them while they are here! I grabbed my phone and headphones and off I went!

It was the middle of the afternoon on a traditional work day, I only passed 3 people while I was walking for over an hour. 1 lady even said hello. It was windy and gusty at times, but the perfect temperature for a leisurely walk. Not too hot, not too cold – but just right! While I was walking, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to write about today. I didn’t come up with any grand ideas, so I’ll leave you with a picture I took of a tree. If you can’t go for a walk today, you can envision yourself on a walk here:

a journal entry: 31 aug 2008

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, I served in Southern Province, Zambia. This usually doesn’t mean much when you tell someone where you served. BUT, if I told you it’s where Victoria Falls is, then you might have an idea of where I was. And if you can’t locate it on a map, you have probably seen pictures.

To get from my house in the village to Victoria Falls was pretty easy, in relative terms. I got a truck into town. This was anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours. Then it was a simple 4 hour bus ride down the paved road! Quick and easy! 😉 If any of us needed a get together or a mental health break from the village, we were usually there! And we only paid the local entry rate, so we got to see a natural wonder of the world for about 25 cents.

I’ve seen the full monsoon Zambezi roaring over the edge. I’ve swam in the Devil’s Pool, a terrifying yet amazing experience right at the top of the Falls.I’ve stood across from the Falls and gotten soaked from head to toe from the mist. I’ve hung out at the bottom watching tourists bungee jump and kayak. I even bungee jumped myself! Every time I visited, it was a completely different experience. But every time was completely breathtaking.

31 Aug 08: Hiked down to the Boiling Pot at Vic Falls. It was amazing! Totally worth the hike. It was hot and we didn’t have any water so that was bad but everything else was great. And we (and by ‘we’ I mean me, Deb and Karen) went to the Bridge and watched people bungee jump. Which was really cool. I can’t wait to do it on my b-day. Can’t wait!!

And I didn’t mention before I finally talked to Mom and Dad the other night in Choma. We talked for 3 hours. And it was pretty great. And it sounds like they are coming next year – with Grandma and Grandpa which is going to be AMAZING! I can wait for that either!

I wish I had my iPod – I left it in my hut…I hope! And I’m covered in mosquito bites so I’ll probably be suffering from malaria in 2 weeks. We’ll see if Doxy really works! But I like Jollyboys so much, I’ll gladly keep coming back even if it means malaria!

A Request, A Walk

It started out innocently enough. Lwendo, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, invited us to her house in the Village. She had a community that wanted to start their own school because they would get cut off from the main school during the rainy season. Of course we could help! We could easily share with them some basic information and give them the contacts that they would need to take action on their plan. The date was set, we would come for a visit and meet the community.

We traveled out to Lwendo’s Village in the back of an old pick up truck. We told the driver who we were visiting and they very kindly dropped us off along the main road before their final stop at the school. This way, we wouldn’t have to walk very far with our packs. We arrived to Lwendo’s house as the sunset, said our hellos and greetings to the entire host family, poured ourselves some strong after-transport level drinks and started setting up our tent in the disappearing light of the day, which quickly turned into pitch black.

I should have known something was up. We turned up to the local clinic the next morning at 10, when I would usually start my day of work in the Village. A nurse had volunteered to take us out to the community, since Lwendo wasn’t exactly sure of the path to take. The nurse looked at her watch and looked back at us disapprovingly. She said we should have left hours ago. I past it off as the over-exaggeration of someone who wanted to drive home the point that yes, we were late.

We should have left hours ago.

It always takes a bit longer to get somewhere when you are walking through the Zambian bush. You must greet everyone you meet on the path. And there is a long tradition of greetings you must ask and enquire about, including my favorite question: What have you eaten? As you can imagine, the list of mandatory greetings are extremely thorough.  Not only must you greet everyone on the path, but if someone from a house nearby sees you, there is a 99% chance that they will shout at you and invite you over for the long list of greetings and depending on the time of day, a drink or even lunch.

Even taking this additional greeting and chatting time into account, we should have left hours ago.

At about hour 2 of walking, I started to wonder how far away this particular community was. Probably something I should have asked at the beginning, right? Well, most people would ask this first. But I hate walking and I really hate knowing how far I might need to walk. This is when the complaining and whining really kicks in for me, no matter how hard I fight it. My internal mind can’t handle knowing distances and everyone knows it.

The heat of the afternoon really kicks in now as we continue on hour 3 of walking, we should have left hours ago.

As we get hotter and hotter because, at this point, we have run out of water, we start meeting more and more people from the community that requested we come for a visit. We must be close! And finally, out of nowhere, we round a bend in the path and the river appears below us. The river isn’t that large at the moment, it slowly and quietly flows across the fallen cement bridge that was built years ago and washed away quickly after that. We make our way safely across the fallen bridge and up the hill where the Village is waiting for us at the Headman’s house.

Phheewww!!!!! We really, really should have left hours ago!

In true Zambian Village fashion, even though we are REALLY late, only half of the school committee is there. We are bustled into the chikuta around a small card table and given the largest wooden carved stools that they have. We are fed dried peanuts, chibwantu – a homemade maize drink and someone refills our water bottles for us from the river. But, you’re thinking, did you filter that river water? No, we didn’t came prepared in case you haven’t realized that yet. We’ll risk a stomach bug for hydration. Plus, it only slightly tasted like soap since it was collected right next to a woman doing her washing.

We start many conversations about the community and why they would like their own school. It makes sense, they have plenty of kids, it’s a very VERY long walk to do twice a day for young children, and during the rainy season no one can cross the river. We share information about how they can get started, what things they will need in place and who they can talk to within the Ministry of Education to register their new community school. We encourage them to take action and make a change for their community and their kids!

Despite walking forever to get there, we then go on a tour of the Village. We see onion patches, collect some garlic from another field and even meet the largest farmer in the area and see his overflowing maize bins. All I can think about is the fact that I have to walk all the way back to get to my tent.

We’ve rested a bit, refilled our water bottles again for the walk home, said our good byes, gave out phone numbers to keep in contact and we’re again on our way. I’m leaning into the absurdity of having to walk this much now, I’m laughing out loud at nothing in particular and making the others laugh too. I keep hoping that an ox cart will come up behind us on the narrow path and magically be going in the same direction as we are. It never happens. But we do meet an ox cart that is traveling to where we just came from, not helpful but we did meet another of the school committee members who was on the back of that ox cart.

As nightfall sets in, we are still walking, but are so close. I can hear families finishing their days and cooking dinner. And the smells of those dinners are intoxicating after a long day of walking. Finally, we arrive. Dusty, dirty, weary but laughing. We quickly get the fire ready and make a giant pot of simple pasta to eat. We pour ourselves drinks. We continue to laugh at the hilarity of a simple visit to a community who wants a school.

We walked 18 kilometres. That’s 11 miles.

My Friend Ralph S. Mouse

When I was kid, I thought it would be incredible to have a mouse as a friend. Of course this was after I read the books about Ralph S. Mouse. Having adventures together while riding a toy motorcycle wearing a ping-pong ball helmet. What’s not to love?

I’m here to tell you, it’s not fun in real life.

You make certain concessions when you live in a mud hut. You don’t have electricity, you have candles. You don’t have running water, you fetch it from a well a la Jack and Jill. You don’t have carpet, you have cement. You don’t have comfortable couches to sit on, you have hard hunks of wood carved into a stool-like shape. And you have critters.

There is nothing you can really do to keep everything outside since you are basically living outside. I’ve had one snake inside my house and several others outside. I’ve had termites raining from the ceiling during the height of the rainy season. I’ve had spiders catch and eat cockroaches. (It’s why I don’t kill the spiders Mom!) I’ve had a bat living underneath my bed. I was fine with all of those things but Ralph S. Mouse is killing me.

Ralph S. Mouse likes to perform his (or her, I’m not sure) hi-jinxes at night. And loudly. I’m a very heavy sleeper but he has been waking me up every single night this month. Its starting to get to me. I’m used to getting a solid 10 (if not 12) hours of sleep every night. Ralph is really cutting in to my sleeping pattern!

And he is eating everything!

It started with a single water flavor packet. Ralph pulled it out of the container I keep them in because I didn’t put the lid on tight. Fine. I didn’t like that flavor much anyway.

Ralph got into the container the next night and chewed open half of my favorite Crystal Light cherry pomegranate water flavor packets. I’m mad. But I still had a bunch left. There are starving people in the world, who also happen to be my neighbors, so not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I remedied the situation by putting all my water flavor packets, along with my tea and coffee, into a bigger plastic container with a lid that snaps shut. Problem solved.

If only I were so lucky.

Ralph starts chewing on the plastic lid to try and eat his way into the container. Ok. I’ll put everything in the containers in plastic bags as well.

He found some green tea bags that I forgot were out. Whatever. I’m just annoyed at this point but won’t do anything about it. He can do his thing, I’ll do mine.

Ralph decided to up the ante and show off his Houdini-like climbing skills.

He ate my onion. That was in a basket. Hanging from the ceiling by string. I’m still not sure how he got there. But he did. This basket was ingeniously designed by yours truly to keep said vermin away from my precious fresh veg. He still ate my onion. I didn’t even know that a mouse would eat an onion. INSANE!!!!!

I have cleaned everything in my house. He ate the seeds I was going to use for my garden. He ate my plastic grocery bags that I use for trash. Everything and anything I thought he might be tempted by has been put in a ziploc bag and then into a plastic container.

He ate the lid off my butter container. Luckily for me, he didn’t fully succeed and my butter is still safely inside. Now I have to find a plastic container to put my butter container in. This is exhausting!

I washed my dishes and notice the plastic handle to the one ‘sharp’ knife I own is chewed off. At least I can still sort of cut things.

I find the plastic lid to my back-up instant coffee is half way gone. At least Ralph likes coffee!

Every night I get woken up to the sounds of scurrying and chewing. Every morning I wake up, put on my coffee, and try to find what has been yet another casualty of Ralph S. Mouse antics.

My non-existent strategy needs to find a focus. Cleaning isn’t solving anything. I think its time for the big guns. A Zambian.

It might be a mistake but I have run out of options. To fully understand my hesitation, I have to explain a bit about how Zambians generally operate. Nothing is an emergency. It takes days to accomplish anything. Which is usually fine. I have all the time in the world here just like Zambians. But the rats are eating everything I own! Time is not on my side. (And I have recently discovered that yes, there is more than one.)

After I discovered that the rats are eating my Old Navy flip flops, I decided it was time to complain. I usually don’t complain because I know it won’t get fixed as fast as I would want it to. I learn to adapt and live with things. (A bat living under my bed for several months says it all!) Or I fix them my crazy American way which my bataata says isn’t fixing it properly. But I can’t fix this problem myself. So I complained. Days ago. And I’ve complained every day since.

Finally my bamaama yelled at my bataata to put the poison in my house before the rats start eating my clothes. Well, that is a comforting thought. They will eat my clothes????!!!! Leave it to my bamaama to get things done! I should have asked her in the first place! My bataata was roasting pumpkin seeds and corn kernels to pound and mix with the poison before I knew what was happening! Action! YES!!! Finally!!!!!! The traps were laid and I was very excited to finally get a good night’s sleep!

“Do you hear chirps and squeaks in your house at night?” BaWesley asked me as he was mixing the poison.
“Yeah. It’s bats right?” I replied.
“No. It is a rat. Those type of rats are hard to get rid of. Especially if they move into the roof of your house. They eat everything. I think that is what is in your house.”
“Great. I’ve heard that noise for weeks now,” I said while thinking to myself, what else have they eaten that I haven’t discovered yet?
“Don’t worry. We will get rid of them,” he said reassuringly.

I’m not reassured.

My house smells like Corn Nuts but the rats are eating the poison! I should have been reassured!

Hopefully this will get rid of them for good. The next step will be mixing dry cement with the pounded pumpkin and corn kernels. I hope for the rats’ sake that they take the poison and die peacefully. No one wants death by cement.

2 days later.

My bedroom smells like death. The oh-too-familiar smell of a decaying animal. And its getting worse. Armed with my flashlight, I start the search and there it is. Under my plastic shelves. And because my bamaama loves me, she got rid of it.

Ralph S. Mouse is no more and hopefully his friends got the message. I need the sleep!

Animals… of the dead variety

If you have been a regular reader of my blog, you will know that I’ve had some very interesting encounters with animals. Well lately I’ve been having some crazy encounters with some dead ones.

The first…
Me, Anna, and Julie had a lot of time off before this event and so no one was in our programme room for a few days. The day we all got back, something was a little off but we just assumed that it was all the paint and turpentine that we hadn’t put away from our last event. So we cleaned up and thought that the smell would go away. The next day the smell was still there and was getting a little worse but I was the only one working in the programme room and I thought that Bunty was outside and continued with my work since the smell wasn’t unbearable. (Sidenote on why I thought Bunty was the cause of the problem. About a month ago Bunty was hit by a rickshaw or car (we aren’t sure exactly what) and hurt his leg really badly. He is on the mend but his wound is open so the boys have to put this nasty smelling spray stuff on it a lot to keep it clean and to keep Bunty from licking it all the time. The spray makes Bunty smell really bad and Bunty likes to sit outside our programme room underneath the window and you can smell him when he is there.) So the next morning we all walked in and the smell was horrendous and since Bunty wasn’t outside our programme room we immediately knew that we had a dead something on our hands. So we started looking around and in everything and figured that it was coming from somewhere around my desk. After a little more looking we found a dead and decaying gecko caught between the wall and the filing cabinet next to my desk. And this is how gross it was. I took one look and couldn’t even look at it again. (And you know me, I’ll look at anything gross and gooey. I couldn’t even take a picture of it, it was that gross.) So lesson learned, dead geckos are the smelliest thing I have ever smelled in my entire life.

The second…
Again if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that we live upstairs with some batty friends. They like to sleep on the curtain that we have hanging in our hallway during the day and come out to fly around and eat mosquitoes at night. Well Anna woke up in her room the other day and noticed what she thought was a leaf on the top of her cabinet. (I’m not sure why on earth she thought a leaf could have gotten up there but that is what she thought it was and she didn’t think anything of it.) We had a busy day that day and so after we got finished with work and headed back upstairs she went to get rid of it. Climbed up on her chair to take it down and discovered that it was a dead bat. I have a picture that I will post tomorrow of the dead bat, that does kinda look like a leaf, on the top of her cabinet. I have to give it to the bat, he died in a pretty good spot. He had a nice view of Anna’s entire room. Anna was a little creeped out at the fact that the bat had obviously been flying around her room while she was asleep, which I guess is kinda creepy.

The third…
Ok, the third isn’t about any dead animals but it does involve tiny little biting ants. Today I took a group of participants to Mobile Creche, which is a Sangam Community Partner. Mobile Creche sets up creches (like a daycare) at construction sites so the children of the construction workers can go to school and not be left alone on the oftentimes dangerous construction sites. So the mobile creche is set up in what will one day be someone’s very nice apartment. So right now it is unfinished but the construction company supplies running water and electricity and the kids and teachers do a very good job at decorating with all sorts of bright and colorful teaching aides. So while we were there hanging out and playing with the kids I noticed a tiny littel ant on my foot but it didn’t hurt so I just brushed it off of me and went on with things. Well that little ant must have had some friends because after a while my legs started to itch, I looked down and they were covered in ant bites that were quickly swelling up. Leave it to me to get a severe allergic reaction to tiny ant bites. So we left Mobile Creche while I was desperately trying not to scratch the hell out of my legs. By the time we got back to Sangam (Mobile Creche is only a 5 minutes walk away) my bites were still getting worse. I had to take a double dose of my allergy medicine, sudafed, and my asthma medicine and took a shower to wash it all off. Then I practically took a bath in my anti-itch creme to make the itching stop. (I knew there was a reason that I brought 2 tubes with me!) After 45 minutes or so, my medincine kicked in and I started to feel better. So I walked around the rest of the day carrying my ant-itch creme and inhaler with me. I don’t have a picture of my bites because they itched so badly when I got back to Sangam I immediately got in the shower and wasn’t thinking about having proof for my blog. (yes, they were THAT itchy!) They are still a little red but not as impressive as they were. No one else in my group got any bites. (Or if they did, they didn’t have a severe allergic reaction!)

So other than all the dead animals and allergic reactions, my last event here at Sangam is going really well. I can’t believe that in less than a month I will be back in South Dakota. It seems like I just got here. Hope everyone is having a good back-to-school season!
christa