On the Cold

The mornings are cold. The air bites your cheeks as you wake up and see it’s light out. You roll over, pull the covers over your head, curl your legs up to your chest. You yank the covers down again, impatiently. It’s still cold. It’s still early. You go through the options in your mind. You could read in bed, but that requires your arms to be outside the covers, and then they’ll be cold. You could try to go back to sleep, but you already know that’s not going to happen.

You pull the covers up again, burrowing into the corner of the bed, toes touching the end of the short mattress, fingers clutching at both the blanket and the open sleeping bag on top of you, making sure they are doing their jobs, pulling them up and around your head, cocooning.

You can hear the construction workers not so far away blasting their music already, getting ready to work. The bass translates through to your hut. You can’t ignore it. You can hear the kids next door. The bell rings at the school for the beginning of classes, in the distance you can hear kids running around the schoolyard. Sleep is not going to come again: you know that.

You abandon your bed. You throw the covers back on top clumsily, you promise yourself you’ll make the bed as soon as you’re warm. You go outside to use the bathroom, you come back in and curl up on your couch under another sleeping bag. From one bed to another, essentially, but this one has music access.

You think about breakfast. You know that, logically, the sooner you make yourself get up and light your brasier, the sooner you’ll be warm. You ponder that thought for a while until, used up, it thins out and slips out of place and disappears. You forget what you were thinking about, thoughts wearing out and fading away again before they bother to become fully formed.

It’s still cold. That thought sticks.

Cold season has hit fast. It stops raining, the storms fade away. One last storm comes in the afternoon, crashing in in a matter of minutes and fading out within the hour. The last storm of the season would like to announce its presence. It would like to make a statement: we’re done for now, but we will be back. Back with a vengeance.

The clouds spent a week coming in early in the morning before burning off with the heat of the day, and then one night you go to bed and it is cold. And you wake up in the morning and it is cold. There are no clouds, just the cold biting your feet as you step into the air outside. And you close your window before going to bed to keep your space a little warmer at night. And you anticipate the cold coming on as the sun falls below the horizon, and the sky opens up and there is nothing to block your view of a hundred million stars lighting up your breath in the air that swiftly drops away the heat it maintained for so long during the day.

So after you get up and after you warm up and the sun is up a bit, enough to start warming the day, but it is still cold, you go out to the clinic in your leggings and with a cardigan on top of your dress. Bundled up. You think about wearing a scarf, but realize that you don’t need it. Yet. And you get to the clinic, and the sun has come out, and the sun is scorching down, and the heat permeates everything. And suddenly it is too hot for your cardigan. It is too hot for the long leggings. And you think about this morning when you were lying, shivering in bed. And you smile.

And in the afternoon you go to sit outside, but it is too hot in the midday sun, and you go to sit inside, but it is too cold with the cool of the brick hut. And you sweat and the sweat cools too fast once you go inside. And cold season cannot make up its mind. But it is still the beginning. Still just the start.

And when you drive along the roads in your bus you watch the sun rising over the trees and over the fields of grass. And the grass is drying out, getting brown. And the trees aren’t quite as bright as they used to be. And you recognize this. You know what this is. You know these colors and these winds and this sun warming the middle of the afternoon and blowing away the biting cold of the mornings. And the sun comes up, and it is day, and the cold wind blows in through a crack in the window next to you and you pull up your hood and curl a bit closer to yourself in your seat and you realize: it feels like fall.

Kids joining me on a late afternoon run down the tarmac.
Kids joining me on a late afternoon run down the tarmac.
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A Day Gone By

The two goats stop outside my door to eat the chinese cabbage ends I threw on the ground last night while cooking dinner. The female crunches away at them, happy and oblivious to my presence a foot away. The male tries one, spits it out, moves further away to eat some weeds. I pause in my book. The warm morning sun, the crunching. Peaceful in its own way. Until I move, and she notices me and runs off again.

At the clinic there are crowds of people sitting outside on the ground. Groups of 8 or 10. They sit on chitenges, not doing anything, waiting for something. There’s no program today, and I would be surprised if they were all patients, but when I go inside I learn what’s going on.

“That child. You know the one with the convulsions? I called an ambulance for him,” my counterpart says. “It’s his third time here since April. I thought he should go to the boma.
The kid is two years one month old. If he goes to the boma hospital he can be treated properly for epilepsy, if that is what is going on. The ambulance was called two hours ago and still has yet to appear.

I woke up at 6:30 this morning. I laid on my couch, listening to stand up on my speaker until the sun was high enough to be warm. I sat outside reading. I lit my brasier, did my dishes, made some coffee, made skillet corn bread. I ate my leftovers from dinner last night: chinese cabbage with eggs, and rice.

From the clinic I go to the school. The nutrition program that was supposed to be today has been moved to friday. I go home, sit on my couch. Eat half an avocado, some of the corn bread. Read my book. A chicken leads her chicks into my hut. They snoop around for a while before i bother to shoo them out.

A community health worker comes by. We discuss the program we have plans for. We talk about his daughter. She has finished grade twelve, she wants to learn about health, he says. He has no money to keep sending her to school, he says. We decide she will sit with us while we plan our program, and help with ones in the future. He teaches me some new words. I go back to my couch.

I think of things I could do, things I should do. I sit here. I should mend my pants, make some pillows for my couch, draw something for my wall, go for a run. I sit. Some goats come by, look in the doorway, walk away.

Nearby somebody plays music. I can hear the sounds of my neighbor starting water for baths. The music turns up. The sun fades its intensity.

A day gone by. Productive in its own way. Quiet, calm in its own way, too.

Things I Find Delightful

The baby cricket that hopped up, not high enough, and ran into the side of my pot of water with a “clink” and fell back down. It waits another minute (calming its nerves?) before trying to hop again.

The feeling of the hot morning sand between my toes as I walk to a patch of ferns to spit my toothpaste. Many times I forget to wear my shoes.

Running down the bush paths, through the tall swaying grass. Skipping to the side to choose a parallel one with better footing. Grass slapping my wrists, grass slapping my cheeks. Music playing aloud because headphones are constricting, and no one is around to care, anyway.

The way the lion on my hut stares at me, no matter what angle I approach it from. A modern jungle Mona Lisa? Just a familiar welcome home.

Greeting an amaama as I pass by her hut. She is weaving a reed mat. I stop and watch her for a while and she explains to me how she is using an old mosquito net for string. Nothing goes to waste here.

Looking both ways as I cross the river of tarmac to the tuck shops across the street. There are no cars, but it’s a habit I can’t break.

Standing on the porch of the clinic, elbows resting on the concrete railing, bathed in the mid day sun. Nothing to do but greet people as they come by and watch the kids playing by the pump.

Speaking to little kids in Lunda. She refuses to talk, even when I tease her for it. She hides in her older sister’s chitenge. The older girl smiles, answers for them both, knows not to be scared.

The goat exploring the inside of my hut leaves just as casually as she came in. No rush. Until she causes the broom to fall and runs away.

The crickets at night, the birds in the morning.

The stars. The sunsets. The early morning clouds which I mistake for fog through the window in my bedroom.

Silence which is never really silence. Sounds traveling over to me before going quiet again.

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Its a long road there’s no turning back (the beginning of a great mix by DJ Luv)

Episode 5: On the Kids Here

Color coming tomorrow!

Theres been a bit of a lag lately, in terms of life and in terms of me posting blogs–I was at Peace Corps workshops/trainings and then on vacation for December and the New Years, and since then there hasn’t been much going on at site due to a combination of people being away for our presidential elections and people not working due to the rainy season!

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Sedentary Funk

The world spinning.

This is not real life.

I feel twitchy, sitting here. Twitchy. But I can’t move. There’s nothing for me to do. This is not real life, I say. I’m in a funk. I have nothing to do. And I have nothing I want to do.

Nothing to do. There’s nothing to do and no way to change this. It takes so long for anything to happen here.

Schedule a meeting. Meeting is canceled. Go to the boma. Come back again. Everyone is leaving. Everyone is somewhere else. There is nothing to do. Nothing at all to do.

After elections, there will be things to do. Just then. Just okay. Its all just okay.

Go home. Cook some food. Finish your book. The sun comes out, the sun goes away. Fetch water. Wash the dishes. Sweep the floor. Sweep again. Eat your food. Go for a run. Read your book.

Look at the calendar. One week and elections will be over. Make plans to make plans. Plans to start programs. When the rains end. When the teachers return. When people finally have time to work. When life will still be this slow.

Close the calendar. Ten minutes have passed. Open your book. Close it again. Go outside. It’s too cold.

The rains will come back again, or so the clouds say. It is still so cold, that is what the winds say. Step inside. Put on another jacket. Open your book.

Make a list in your head: all the things you could do today. Think of what you want to do. The winds come in. Bundle up a bit more. Go back to your book. Stare at the page.

This week you have read 1700 pages worth of books. 1700 pages. You close your book again. Not bored as much as appalled by that thought.

Ten more minutes have passed. Its still the long afternoon. Stare out the window. Pray for some rain. Let your eyes fall on the puffy clouds instead.

Get up. Light the brazier. Happy for a bit of warmth. Happy for a bit of work. Make your muscles move. Think of something new. Listen to some music. Get out of this sedentary funk.

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Get bored, take a truck somewhere new.

 

On Malawi Vacation

Bounce around in the back of the truck, wind blowing through your hair. Pause the truck to let the baboons cross the street (why did the monkeys cross the road?), more like a tiny dirt road. Pick up some people, drop some off. Stop for a hitchhiker: a forty-five minute ride can take three hours.

Malawi is beautiful. Small hills covered in big rock faces and newly green trees. Gardens and farms line the road, soil prepped and ready for the rainy season to come in full force to grow the maize. White sand beach, small islands popping up in the middle of the lake which looks like an ocean. Clear blue water lapping the edges, the amaamas washing the clothes and the dishes in the lake, little naked kids diving in and out of the water.

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Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.
Little iwes jump on the back of the truck as we drive through the village.

Its dry here still, like in much of south eastern Zambia, where the rains are still just starting, a month later than they should have. You can see it in the trees and the fields and in the rivers thirsting for water. You can feel it in the heat, which constantly needs a good rain to break it up into something more bearable. Something less heavy feeling. The hot season has gone on way too long here.

Of course, being from Northwest, I am not used to the heat. Our rainy season has been going for at least a month or two now, and I worry more about the hole in my roof than about my neighbors’ farms not being able to grow food. I worry about the snakes that might come in through the forest of ferns that grows up around my house before I ask someone to come and slash my yard. Dry is a foreign concept at home when I cant get my clothes to dry, when I am in bed in my sweatpants and a sweater.

Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi
Men lounge at the bus station in Lilongwe, Malawi

But, then again, this is our beach vacation, and what is a beach vacation without too much heat and sunburns and skipping over the burning sand into the cool water to cool down?

And here we are: in Malawi. On the lake, the crystal clear lake that is so big it seems like an ocean. We lie on the beach and read our books and drink our beers and life on vacation is good. We wait while the morning clouds clear out, we catch a ride into town to get money from the atm. The breeze in the truck bed cuts the heat for the moment, and is a nice break from the rest of the day.

And we return to the beach. We watch the boats in the water, multiplied at night while they shine their lights and go fishing. We watch the amaamas go down to the edge of the water and wash the clothes and the dishes and themselves. The little boys run down to the edge of the water, strip their clothes off on the way and dive into the waves. We count the chickens running around in the sand with the kids, and it is so much like home, like the village, but with sand instead of dirt and lakes instead of streams. It is vacation.

Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.
Lake Malawi, amaamas doing wash.

To the Rain

On rainy days we don’t go anywhere. We don’t go anywhere because there’s nowhere to go. Sit in the corner, watch the water fall, the whole world is in my head. Listen to the sound of the drops on the thatch. Listen to the sound of the drops coming in through the holes, land in the bowls and the pots and the pans lining the floor to catch the strays as they come into the hut. Block everything else in the world out and just listen.

On rainy days the ground is happy, the heat slinks away. The dust finally settles and the green returns to the earth. The ferns start to unfold and rise slowly up, up towards the sky. The dry earth turns to puddles, the paths turn to mud. The stream levels rise, the banks slink away.

On rainy days we watch the storms come in. We look up at the clear blue skies and spot the dark cloud moving towards us and guess about whether it will hit us soon or pass us by. We go for walks. We wash our clothes. We fetch water and take a shower and get caught in the storm as it comes in. We head back inside. The clothes get slowly damper on the lines as the storm washes off those bits of soap that never come off while bucket washing my laundry.

We walk slowly inside, enjoying the drops, we dry off and bundle up and leave the door to the hut wide open to allow the breeze to cool the inside of the room. We move the candles out of the way of the wind, we sweep the dust from the corners where it continually collects. The wind blows it back inside and we finally get the larger pieces out the door or into the puddle on the stoop. We move back inside. We dry off our hands.

On rainy days we take the brazier inside to cook on, we let the fumes fill the room with smoke. We pile on extra small pieces of charcoal so that the fire will catch without needing to be swung. We wait for it to heat up, we let it warm the room. We make soup or stew and sit on the bed eating and watching a movie. We make popcorn with the extra hot coals. We put on music, we take turns putting on songs. We find the perfect songs. We stop taking turns and listen to the perfect songs one right after another. We sit on the concrete floor, hands around our knees. We sit on the floor and listen to the music and the glow of the candles lights the hut with long shadows and soft hisses. We turn off the sound. We listen to the rain.

The rain stops and we wish for it to keep going. We wish for the soothing soundtrack to the day. The excuse to be as slow as possible. The calm way in which everything stops in deference. We fall asleep and it starts raining again.

The rain continues through the night, and slows to a stop sometime in the early morning. The storm has come and gone, come and gone again, and it is dry. The leaves shake off the drops and drops of dew and it is a new day, bright and blue skies once more.

The rain has stopped and the sun has returned and we go outside, blinking into the sun, the clouds burning off again, the world returning to what it was before. The sky turns from dark to grey to blue and we wait. We wait for the rains to return. We wait for the rains to return to the skies once more.

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The storm cloud coming in towards Samuteba, blue skies on the ridge in Mundwidji.

 

A travel blog. A Peace Corps blog