"Let the world change you... and you can change the world."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Only in Indonesia. (May 2010)

Only in Indonesia… does your landlord decide he is going to seize nearly half of your (already rented and paid for) house so that he and his family can live there. Perhaps he promises that it will only be used once a month by him and his immediate family. However, this is Indonesia. The notion of family extends to brothers, sisters, parents, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, second-cousins, third-cousins, close friends, neighbors, work colleagues, the local religious leaders, friends-of-a-friend, a favorite ojek driver, random people you meet on the bus, the woman who sells you vegetables, etc. etc. etc. Thus Brenda and I were a bit apprehensive. The landlord didn’t even inform us. He just inserted a ply-wall divider. We could have pushed it over with one hand. Safety issues aside…. Will these people want to use our kamar kecil? What if they need water? What if we want to use the veranda? Will they be suspicious if we have visitors? Will they cook smelly foods? What about utility bills? Hey I’m all for sharing. But sometimes I want to be selfish… is that so wrong? We triumphantly stood our ground.

Only in Indonesia… does the pilot invite a passenger in the cockpit of a commercial flight. Isn’t there somekind of international rule about those doors being locked? Flores, Sumbawa, Lombok, Penida, Lembongan, Bali. The dashboard GPS guided the plane as the pilots joked and posed for photos. Don’t you guys need to be like holding a wheel or something?? They assured me it was easy. So easy they even let me do a bit of steering. Food for thought on your next trip to Bali… who is flying the plane today??

Only in Indonesia… will a police officer willing hand you his gun for a photo opt. During our recent visit to Bajawa to register with the police, Morris and I stopped to chat with a group of police. They all wanted photos with Morris. Jokingly (ok, only partially) I asked to hold the gun. No problemo!! They even opened it up into the ready-to-use position. Have these guys ever heard of crazy, trigger-happy gunmen/women?

Only in Indonesia… can an organization implement a program called ‘cuci otak’. Brenda proposed a much more optimistic translation… mind cleansing. I, however, couldn’t get past the idea that my partners where going to be undertaking a bit of brainwashing with the farmers. Maybe YMTM has thrown in the towel with participation… they’ll just ‘cuci otak’ the farmers instead. Will it all finish with a ‘magic serum’? A spaceship invasion? A major conspiracy by ‘the man’?

Only in Indonesia… do I help the ferry captain light his cigarette as he relinquishes the ‘controls’ of the boat (which looks barely able to stay afloat) to my steady hand. Hopefully this is not a three-hour tour Gilligan-style.

Only in Indonesia…

There's a scorpion on my wall. (25 April 2010)

Sunday morning. My only day off during the week. After 3 days of waking before dawn for various and very unnecessary reasons, I was sooo looking forward to sleeping in. But this is Indonesia.

Contrary to popular belief chickens crow way before the sun peeps above the horizon… And seemingly louder before daylight.

The motorcycles on the street loudly revved their engines starting sometime before six.

The first text message vibrates my cellphone at 6:50. The next one at 6:53. Then at 7:00.

At somepoint in the last hour a group of boys identified our street corner for a game of ‘rock-throwing’ (apparently a favorite in the absence of balls).

And now it’s 8:11. I’m staring down a scorpion that has taken up residency on the wall beside my bed. Somehow the thin mosquito net creates (perhaps false) sense of security from the curly tailed creature. What does one do with a scorpion on the wall?? Times like this I feel so ill-equipped to deal with the ‘real world’. Funny to think that most people outside of North America and Europe probably would know exactly what to do when they wake-up with a scorpion on their wall. But I’ll have to give it some thought. Nevertheless, I will soon need to leave my mozzy-free sanctuary soon… a bladder can only hold so much for so long.

But more importantly… coffee. Sunday’s are my days to forgo the familiar instant Nestcafe in lieu of a brewed filtered coffee. Apparently some of the world’s best coffee (according to an Indonesian source) is grown in the mountains on Flores. The “coffee cherries” are harvested, dried, and the skin removed. Inside each red cherry is one bean (two halves). Have you noticed the vast bins of beans at Starbucks? And have you by chance noticed the superfluity of coffee shops. That’s a hell of a lot of coffee cherries. Here it is an absurdity to buy coffee. People simply harvest from their garden, their trees… or their neighbors. The beans are dried in the sun on excess corrugated tin roofing. Then fried (often with bits of ginger) in a wok over a wood fire until they turn black. The smell is incredible. The women then pound the coffee with a stone until powdery. A heaping tablespoon of coffee powder is spooned into a juice glass… a coffee mug would be pretentious (if you could find one). Then as local custom two heaping tablespoons of unrefined sugar (it would be bad form to not have sugar as this is a sign of ‘wealth’). Boiling hot water is slung across the row of glasses, creating a sloppy mess of black ooze. Wait a few minute for the coffee to settle so as not have a mouthful of black grit and stop before you reach the black sludge in the bottom of your glass. So it might be good stuff... but seriously I still would give a kidney to be able to pop down to the corner coffee shop for a latte. Starbucks, where are you when I need you???

Easter in Riung (6 April 2010)

10:30 on a Tuesday.

I suspected the office staff would be sparse during the Easter holiday. However, not quite this sparse. I didn’t work a lick for the entire last week and this is the second day with no signs of life. There is a rumor that we are having a meeting tonight. So I’ve come home… to wait for the workday to begin (maybe). After a brief moral struggle, I am savoring my icy margarita-esque drink. I assure you that drinking at 10:30 on a workday with intentions of going to the office in a bit is not a normal course of action. However, somehow I felt deserving as I sit, dripping sweat, under the corrugated tin roof with no electric and no work to be done. And indeed it is delish… cheers to tequila, salt, and limes.


Easter weekend.

Last Easter a VSO group converged upon the beach in Maumere for a lobster feast and copious bottles of cold Bintang. This year lacked a definite plan for passing the long weekend. So I sent out an SOS, inviting all volunteers with in a 10 hour radius to join me in neighboring Riung. Two takers. My co-volunteer in Mbay and an Irishman who braved a bus literally overflowing with passengers (Mark at least managed a seat inside on a coil of rope arranged in the aisle… other brave souls clung to the roof or sat in the windows as the bus no doubt haphazardly cruised the desolate north road en-route to Mbay).

Riung is praised for boasting the ‘Seventeen Islands National Park’. The park comprises of not 17 but rather more than 20 islands… some of which are located under the water (???). Mark and I agreed that we are pretty sure that part of the requirements to be an island is to be a body of land that is surrounded by water… not covered by it. Nevertheless, it was lovely. A sleepy palm –tree-lined town completely void of tourist except for our small posse.

The hotel manager arranged our entire island hoping excursion (as well as accompanying us... not sure if this was out of necessity or rather boredom). With a breakfast of banana pancakes in our stomachs and bags loaded with bottles of water, we boarded the whitewashed boat.

First stop was the bat island. A herd? flock? pride? pod? … a lot of flying foxes (big fruit bats) have colonized an island near the coast of Flores. The tree tops no longer green are shrouded in a screeching, grey flutter of nocturnal life.

On the way to our lunching local, we stopped to take in the underwater coral gardens. Crystal clear, we gazed in to the depths of the sea as the boat anchored onto a floating water bottle that marked the snorkeling spot. Throughout the day, we stopped at 3 different snorkeling locals. Each spectacularly rewarding.

Vividly colored fish in a vast array of sizes and levels of inquisitiveness.

Shy sea turtles.

Massive starfish.

Black spiky urchins.

An array of coral in various rainbowed hues.

But lunch. Astonishingly exhausted after merely floating around on the still waters, we were welcomed to our very own white sand rimmed, deserted island. Our guide and boat captain set to work… cleaning fish, building a fire from deteriorating coconut husks (shells), mixing up a special fish marinade. Besides sand and coconut trees, the island oddly had 3 shaded, tiled tables (albeit fairly rundown, obviously from better days) and just enough wooden chairs (although one was missing a leg and two more had lost their backs) for our party. Rice, grilled fish, green vegetables, and a sweet-lemon-chili accompaniment were scooped into woven baskets. Toes in the sand and a picture perfect turquoise sea painted before our eyes. The still green mountains of Flores hovering not far away, fluffy white clouds tickling their peaks.

Indeed, we might not have celebrated the holiest day on the island in a church bursting with parishioners, but we did celebrate. We soaked it in…

The big VSO event. (30 March 2010)

I fail to be able to translate dengue fever into Bahasa Indonesia. So I continue to let everyone believe that I have malaria. They both are the result of mosquitos. And the empathy necessitated is surely in equal measure. I was determined not to lavish on the woes-me. I was determined to carry-on functioning. I wasn’t dying after all. However, it was when I heard that we were going to Bajawa for a (maybe) a week that I suddenly felt decapacitateingly ill. Life could not go on as normal. So I bailed at the crossroads and continued my journey to Mbay. Informing every listening ear of my illness. That’s right Sir, I’m facing a near death from ‘malaria’.

Just back from a week in Bali for an Annual VSO mtg. I spent a great deal of the time catching up on sleep and cable television… and daily blood tests at the hospital. However, I thought the highlight of the week was probably the rap written and performed by John and I about each volunteer. Showcasing our not-so-secret ghetto fabulousness. Or perhaps it was the cultural night where each country performs something special, something cultural. Typically involving costume, dance, song, etc, etc. This is always a stumper for us North Americans (USA and Canada Unite!). Nevertheless, we pulled out a stellar performance this year as we showcased our talent (or lack of) at setting up a tent, building a (pretend) campfire, and roasting (pretend) marshmallows. Unfortunately, we did not receive a thunderous applause. More like a perplexed silence.

Ok, perhaps not the most impressive cultural performance.

The community day was definitely the highlight. Teaming up with a local community environmental group, we started an insanely hot morning off with a community and beach clean-up. Our brilliant red VSO t-shirts turning a dark blood color from the buckets of sweat that seemed not humanly possible. Next came lunch. Assorted types of seaweed and fishballs… and rice. Despite the nose wrinkling it was incredibly tasty. Then on to the main event. Coral planting.

The local group, Kelompok Nelayan Pesisir, began transplanting coral in 2002 using methods of grafting. They use cement bases to glue on bits of harvested ‘seed coral’ in order to encourage coral re-growth and thus increasing a nearly depleted fish population (who live amongst the coral). The leader of the group, Pak Wayan Patut, has shared his experience locally as well as internationally. Several years ago he traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa for the UN Earth Summit to promote this project and lobby for environmental awareness. Pretttty cool.

We loaded a giant cement ‘VSO’ and 50ish people into three boats and set off for the coral gardens. Several of the group dived into retrieve seed coral and as the rest waited on the boats… groaning with increasingly seasickness and nausea from the motion of the ocean. Opting for more stable land, we headed for the beach to the cutting and gluing of coral. Although, mostly the volunteers just frolicked in the clear water. Then back to sea, where we donned snorkels and watched as the coral was transplanted into the VSO letters now resting at the bottom of the ocean. Soooo… if you ever happen along a coral encrusted large ‘VSO’ off of the Bali shore, this my friends is how it got there…

Vibrations. (13 February 2010)

Last night there was an earthquake while Bali slept (except for the still-raging drunken Aussie wonderland of nightlife in Kuta). I thought my phone was vibrating. Perhaps I shall reduce the cellular vibrations.

3 dogs and a monkey. (2 February 2010)

VSO is renting me a kost (a private room in a family’s home) for the next couple of weeks while I catch up on language and wait for the visa to clear. They are an inquisitive lot, but always friendly. Unlike their pets. A rather large grey monkey kept in a rather small grey cage. A lazy turtle and his fishy friends in a cement ‘puddle’. Several noisy birds. And three angry dogs. The dogs seem to have an acute sense of smell as I walk towards the metal gate each afternoon or evening they go crazy. Barking. Growling. Gnashing. Pouncing. To open the gate I just have to slip my hand through a small hole at the bottom and lift the stop. The family assure me to coo to the dogs and sing their names. Right. These dogs are hungry for human (aka my) flesh. Plus, with major rabies problem in Bali… nooooo thank you. Therefore I shall patiently wait each day for someone to come rushing out to see who might be the intruder and open the gate. It’s me…


Ibu brings brown sticky goo. Remember gak? Sweet and slightly salty with small lumps that remind me of fish eyes. Typically a huge fan of Indonesian food… but this goes on the never to eat again list. The toilet wasn’t even a fan.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A brief encounter in South Africa. (December 2009)

I flew back to the states via Johannesburg. After our rafting adventure in Vic Falls, we celebrated our survival at the local hostel. (With about 100 Swedish over-landers… yikes!) A poster advertised their ‘sister’ hostel in Jo’burg. Easy and convenient, I booked. On the first night the only other occupant in the dorm was a Peace Corps guy finishing his duties in Lesotho. Awaking to a massive down pour, with no sign of stopping, the hostel owner (who lived there with his family… it was more like his house with a bunch of bunk beds in one of the rooms) offered to drop us off at the mall to catch a movie. Very cultural, indeed! But I love going to the movies. The Peace Corps dude was a ‘Master’ in African history and since in South Africa it seemed only appropriate to watch Invictus. Good choice for a rainy day in SA.

Small world-ness case 1:

As the owner’s 7 year old daughter sat on the bed doing my hair, into the dorm walks a guy I had met in Malawi. Small world. We shared our adventures and travels from the past couple of months. We were in the suburbs of Jo’burg (read: this hostel did not have bar), plus I was exhausted from a hard day at the cinema I went to sleep early.

Small world-ness case 2:

I stir from a light sleep as two new people arrived in the dorm room. Malawi acquaintance seems to know them… I open my eyes only to realize, so do I. I had also met them in Malawi… only on a separate occasion. Crazy small world.

J and I both had night flights back to the states. He had hoped to spend his last day in Africa getting a firsthand perspective of HIV/AIDS in SA. But no luck at gaining access to a clinic. So we started chatting about going out to one of the townships. A tour was expensive… and touristy. We can do this on our own… we are Americans after all! But which one isn’t that dangerous? And how to get there? We seek local advice.

Taxi – too dangerous. And expensive. Sure to be mugged and stranded somewhere.

Train – too dangerous. Will be mugged and thrown off the tracks. Will probably die.

Walking – too dangerous. And too far. Muggings are highly likely.

Bus – too dangerous. But chances of muggings and certain death are the most minimal.


The hostel owner insists on dropping us and picking us up from the mini bus terminal. He directs us to go to a not-super-dangerous township. We asked a woman where she was headed. Sounds ok (but really what do we know?). We asked the mini-bus driver to drop us at the same place and climbed in the front seat with another passenger… 4 in the front is way better than 50 wedged in the back. Score.

Is it better to have nothing if mugged? Or to have something to give them for their efforts? We flipped a coin and went with the former, literally leaving everything in the hostel and only bringing along exact fare for the mini-bus. The township residents etch out an amazing existence… out of nothing and everything. Our rubbish becomes their homes. Their worldly possessions. ‘Houses’ made out of scrapes yet with meticulous flower beds out front. Roses in bloom. A small group of girls follows us for a while. Giggling. And giggling. And giggling. They guided us away from the sections of ‘town’ where death was certain and “people are stabbed”. Thanks girls.

Jason and I survived the adventure and bid adieu at our departure gates. Honestly, it all seemed rather tame. No big encounter. No big trouble. Over exaggerations? Or our under awareness?

Victoria Falls. (December 2009)

Chipata to Victoria Falls… what a trek! One corner of Zambia to the other. We boarded the bus in Chipata before day break. And two days later we arrive in Vic Falls well after dark. Not a continuous trip, we did have a brief reprieve from bus seats, thanks to Albert’s aunt and uncle for hosting us at their farm on our night stopover outside of Lusaka. Admittedly we would have reached the hotel in Vic Falls much earlier if we had been delayed at the border crossing (we were staying on the Zimbabwean side of the falls). Albert (a Zambian) had under-estimated his power of persuasion as he did not actually have a passport… he had applied but not allowing enough time for processing before the trip. Over an hour later and an encounter with mischievous baboon that caused a bit of a ruckus in the immigration office, Albert had papers for a 24 hour stay. Not quite the 7 days we had planned but he was certain to get it worked out.

We stayed on the edge of a national park. The front of our chalet rolled up so we could watch the warthogs root around the grassy lawn with their warthog-let babies. Our kitchen door reminded us to keep it locked… to keep out the naughty baboons. Although no matter how long we sat outside staring into the forest beyond we never sighted any baboons or anything larger… perhaps that is a lucky thing? However, from the main lodge we did sip an occasional Zambezi beer while gazing out at the leggy impala and waterbuck, and the copious varieties of birds that all came to the watering hole. One afternoon Matthias decided he was going to go down to the water for a closer view. Obviously he had missed the electrified heavy duty barbed wire fence. But those people are down there. Those people, Matthias, are birds. Very very large birds.

Each morning Matthias treated us to fresh baked bread. God bless Italy. And at night we shared in the dinner responsibilities. One night spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce. One night a barbeque. One night a very random assortment of munchies after returning from a river cruise above the falls on the Zambezi river. We had taken full advantage of the free booze… making great friends with the bartenders and a small child whose mother was notably a bit anxious as Matthias swung her son over the railing to get a better view of the hungry-hungry hippos. The river cruise was a gift to Albert. It took him 2 days back in Zambia to work out his passport situation. Sensing he was a bit bummed we surprised him when he returned with the cruise.

And a day of jumping off cliffs... although strategically not the following day.

My nerves immediately gave way as my legs transformed to rubber, staring down from the cliffs to the river below. The harness cinched tightly around my waist and between my legs, making walking to the first thrill ride a significant challenge. A total of three different types of jumps for the day… three different leaps of death.

Defying death, Jump 1

The ‘flying fox’.

A running leap. Hands out. Superman style. The harness allowed us one by one to glide out across the gorge. A good beginner to the day. Why start with certain death?

Defying death, Jump 2

Zip Line

Sitting in my harness at the edge of a platform, legs dangling over the rocky gorge and river far below. 1-2-3… the cord was released and I zipped down and out. Heart pumping as I swung back and forth, suspend like a ticking pendulum of a clock, waiting for my rescue guy to heave me back to the safety of solid ground.

Defying death, Jump 3

Gorge Swing

In theory it didn’t seem like a big challenge. Freefalling head first into a gorge… how scary is that, right? No problemo. Once again I overestimated myself… and my false sense of fearlessness. I admit it. Bungee-esque. Free fall but instead of springing up and down, we swung out over the gorge. The cords attached around my waist were heavy and pulled me out to the ledge. On the video, I confess to being “really scared”. And then the supervisor pushed me. Holy shit (that’s the PG version). Diving into death, I prayed for angles.

While Albert was away. Verena, Matthias, and I went white water rafting. Climbing down into the steep, rocky gorge with paddle in hand we joined our rafting ‘crew’, a hodgepodge of intrepid backpackers. Evidently in Africa instructions and safety details are not entirely necessary… a quickie 5 minute overview must meet the legal standard. Although I think our Guatemalan comrade could have used a bit more of a briefing. Just the basics… like everyone is supposed to paddle (he did very little) and posing for photo opts when going through the rapids may cause the boat to flip (which it did…three times). The rapids were pretty wild class 5’ers. On the more mild class 3 rapids, our guide allowed us to swim through. Into the white water. I held on to my lifejacket as I am swept into with a dynamic drop into a whirlpool… there is no going back. My body feels like it hit a wall. Thanks to the power of adrenaline I heave myself into the raft. Happy to have survived I test fate again. And again. I swam through more rapids than I actually stayed in the boat for… not by choice.

And at the end, absolutely exhausted from a swim against the current (it was a fun idea in theory), we climb for an hour out of the gorge. Collapsing at the top. Literally.

Victoria Falls. A spectacular natural wonder. Viewing from the Zimbabwean side we took in the thundering cascades. The rising mist so great it soaks our clothes even under the penetrating sun. It keeps the cliffs green and lush. One can walk right to the edge. No railing. No warning sign. Safety first is apparently an absent theme. Rainbows scatter across the rock river base far below. We sit on the warm black rocks, dangling our feet over the edge, attempting to soak in the enormity of the water surging over and through the gorge with such power. It is thrilling. It is beautiful.

Our last dinner together, we don proper African attire. My new chitenge traditional Zambian-style outfit was a surprise gift from Verena, Matthias, and Albert. They had it made in the market… showing a woman my photo and it fit perfectly! Dinner was a feast of African food. Appetizers of impala meat. Goat screwed and roasted above an open fire. Curries of warthog. Chewy worms. And chocolate cake. A fortune teller sat in a tip-pee under dangles of garland. A man with a palate went around the tables to paint faces… not so traditional but rather with things like giraffes and flowers. There were various Zimbabwean dancers dressed in animal skins that moved their legs faster than I ever thought to be humanly possible. The night wrapped up as everyone remaining in the open air venue received a painted African drum for a group drumming session. We followed the rhythm… or at least gave it our best effort. Joining in with the dancing as others kept the beat going strong. Touristy sure. But a fun night to bid farewell to friends.

A backlog from Africa. (December 2009)

Rosie and I road our bicycles out to Marco’s school. Marco is an Italian guy who started the Magazine Christian Mission School a number of years ago for orphaned children. It was the last day of class and reason for celebration! Who can argue with that!? The recognition of attendance and scholarship had already begun (yes, it seems to be a universal school-thing!) as we arrived dripping sweat and with dirty red feet from the off-road, up-hill biking. The students formed navy blue lines under the shade of a mango tree. The smallest and most squirmy stood nearest the ‘authorities’; the older students in more practiced rows. The awards? Bars of soap. Can you imagine giving 7 or 9 year olds soap for prizes at home? I think it might go down just as well as getting clothes for a birthday or Christmas. But these kids were excited!

As if a wall had been dislodged the children feel from their straight lines into a clump of broad white smiles and scrawny limbs. A few pre-teen girls took turns on the microphone, belting out with ceaseless self-assurance songs in their native tongue. The enthusiasm was viral as the tiny crowd cheered, clapped, and joined in on the chorus. And as quickly as it had all begun, the smiles and limbs dashed off to play the games that Matthias and Verena (volunteers at the school) had prepared.

Sack races,

Jump rope contests,

Stilt walking,

Volleyball (with a rope in lieu of a net),

Obstacle course races.

Laughter and smiles.

And then I cycled downhill watching out for rogue golf balls as I took the short cut through the golf course.


Uniting the nations. It very well may have been the most special party I have ever had the good fortune of hosting. I was the lucky one this evening. Friends from around the globe gathered, enjoyed Zambian music, shared in conversation and laughter. It was closure. It was the end of this chapter in life’s adventure. Not a cheerless occasion. On contrary, a joyous party in celebration of new friends, of new experiences, of new perspectives.

I’d been gathering, peeling, and blending mangos from our mango tree in the garden all week. An orange sticky mess that made me reconsider my party plans with each fly that buzzed into through the open door next to the kitchen. A cocktail party… something different! Tomatoes from our garden for the bloody mary’s. Mangos from the shade tree mixed with our prolific basil for sweet twist. Lemons, Spanish apples, and oranges gathered from our yard and neighbors fruit-ified the sangria. Baskets of local spirits glammed up the clear plastic sachets I bought from a man sitting on a wooden bench in the market. Nibbles by the handful from big bowls of freshly popped popcorn. Friends. Friends of friends. New acquaintances. People I’d met earlier at the Magazine School’s (for orphans) last day fun day. North Americans. Europeans. Asians. Africans. I had not invited people under the pretext that this was a leaving do… I was the first performance, the coming-out, for my rasta friends’ reggae band. It just so happened to also be my last weekend in Chipata. Manyon and Dubay had been disappointed a jam session at the Art’s Center when I had said that I wouldn’t be around for their first show. Admittedly, I too was disappointed. So sprung forth the idea of a pre-show party!

The classy wine boxes exhausted and the band packed up… the party rolled down to the street to the night club. Once again we found ourselves dancing away at center stage. Literally. When it is blatantly obvious that you are strange, why try in vain to bend in??? Rock out.


I blended the remaining tomatoes that missed their fate in the Bloody Mary mix. Verena and Matthias had invited several of us over for an authentic pizza making event. Matthias, missing his native Italia, built an oven from bricks and scrapes of metal roofing. We sat around a heaving floured table working our little lobes of dough into something resembling a pizza. Except for Albert who fashioned his into a work of art resembling Africa… complete with countries of cheese and ham! Zambia never tasted so good…


Giving thanks for my princess-esque lifestyle, I invited Efraim (night security guard), Brenda (housekeeper), and Moses (garden-boy who does very little gardening) for a goodbye lunch in our garden. Zambian cooking to be done by yours truly! Thankfully Brenda and Moses came to the rescue… stirring nshima takes muscle!! Under the purple flowers of the Flamboyant tree, we licked our fingers clean. Two lumps of nshima and a plate full of gooey snot-esque cooked okra.

Over the past several weeks, I have typically always prepared lunch for Brenda, Moses, Rosie and myself as we sit together in the garden. So this lunch didn’t seem so out of the ordinary. However, for Efraim (who eats dinner out in the shelter by the gate door) it was something special. He shared that was happy to be sitting down for a meal for the first time with a ‘muzungu’ (white person). Efraim’s new wife added something in the local language. As she grinned broadly as she put on my sunglasses, Brenda assured me that the woman was impolite and should be ignored. I will miss these friends.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Wonder Woman, Lion King, and bit of Rupiah. (2 November 2009)

Wonder Woman, a Safari Guide, the Skipper from Gilligan’s Island, Charlie Chaplin, a random roll of toilet paper, circus performer, and of course the obligatory witch… all showed up to celebrate Halloween. Which is undeniably the greatest holiday of the year.

But here in Zambia, it’s never a party without the wildlife.

Elephant… check.

Lion (albeit vegetarian)… check.

Dragon (not of the Komodo variety)… check.

I’ve seen Walt Disney’s Lion King. Isn’t that what Africa is all about? A cleric monkey blessing the new born king high on a cliff while the animal masses sing and bow to his glory. Well Mr. Disney, I have news for you… warthogs and hyenas do not speak English. (Unless, that’s one stellar Halloween costume.)

I was brought to this devastating revaluation while getting up close (and luckily not so personal) while on safari at South Luangwa National Park. Jaimy, a fellow VSO volunteer from the Netherlands, and I had a fascinating excursion… A truly African Adventure. I wish I had the balls (or the ovaries) to request a refund from the lodge. Not because it wasn’t a well run and fascinating excursion but rather because I didn’t sleep a wink in my tent. Even with a spacious, comfy bed… shouldn’t all camping be so luxurious? However, seriously what would stop a lumbering elephant or a grazing hippo from trampling my tent? Or a prowling lion and scavenging hyena from pouncing as I sprint to the toilet in the dark night? I prayed that our distant relations in the Great Ape family didn’t sniff out the banana I had stashed in my bag. This is camping on a whole other level.

Up before the sun, we sleepily climbed aboard the open top jeep. Wrapping up in blankets to catch the wind that blew across the open fields of brown. (Breakfast would be served later as we hypnotically gazed at the hippos that would peak their heads above the river, let out a load laugh, and re-submerge their massive bodies… South Luangwa is home to something like 20,000 hippos!)

Warthogs… Impala… Elephants…

Giraffes… Buffalo… Kudu…

Water buck… Antelope… Crocodiles…

Hippopotamuses… Zebras… Leggy birds

We nibbled on lunch with vistas of free roaming wildlife. As if sitting in an IMAX theater watching an African feature film… only better.

Little white butterflies and emerald birds…

Baboon… Guinea fowl… Genets…

Civets… Honey Badgers… Leopards… Hyena

A pride of lions feasting on a newly killed buffalo, crunching on bones, licking their lips

The sun transformed into a fiery red ball as we watched it sink behind the river bed. We toasted our glasses of Amarula (made from the fruit of the Marula tree, it’s a sweet creamy alcohol much like Bailey’s).

But the thrill of the day, of the night, was on the prowl. Spying a massive herd of buffalos in the dark, moonless night, we stop to watch them. The baboons screech out a warning. And then as if oblivious to our presence, a lioness stalks from behind the jeep. Another one to the right. And on the left. One in front. Two in front. On the hunt… and we were between them and their buffalo meal. We sat in silence for 45 minutes. Waiting. Then the attack. The buffalo racing around our vehicle. The lions close enough to touch. Protectively the buffalo form a mob and drop their horns, tossing lions into the air. The lions lunging at the weak stragglers of the stampede, claws and teeth lashing at the gray leathery hides. The energy. The hunger. The primal instinct that laced the breezeless night air. I cannot grasp the proper vernacular… but it was way better than anything the Discovery channel or Animal Planet or National Geographic dishes out.

Later safe in my tent, I’m still reeling from the excursion. A hyena passes directly in front of the mesh tent door… what a fantastic world.

Mother Nature and Elton John rock on.

The next morning we were up again to catch the sun rise. This time breakfast was served at a nearby salt-flat. Complete English style. Toast, beans, eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, coffee, juice… all cooked on an open fire by our two local guides. If you ever find yourself in the wilds or on Survivor, elephant dung is apparently great for making cooking fires. Although, I tried not to notice the absence of handwashing facilities after the cooks collected the dried elephant dung. A whole new meaning to green eggs and ham… yum!

Does it get any better than that? Not really.

At least I thought so, and then l I met my newest acquaintance, El Presidente himself, Mr. Rupiah Banda. The Zambian President and I moments ago had a bit of a conversation out front of the local radio station, owned by my mango-stealing neighbor. I had skillfully stalked him (the President not the neighbor) for a good portion of the day. I regrettably had sought refuge from the torrential downpour under a mere sapling when a helpful stranger gave me a lift home. Racing up to the house, I grabbed my garden boy, Moses… and an umbrella. However, if I had known that we were going to actually have a face-to-face audience with the Zambian leader, I might have also have changed my wet and dirty clothes into something more appropriate for meeting Presidents! Or at least put on a clean shirt. Nevertheless, I’m feeling pretty cool…

Almost as cool as I felt (after we drained the 12 bottles of South African wine and copious bottles of Mosi and Castle… there may have also been a bottle or two of gin) dancing on stage at a Zambian pop concert in my Halloween costume to a crowded club of cheering fans. Surely they were cheering for my style-riffic dance moves and not the Zambian superstar… surely.

Lake of Stars. (26 October 2009)

Anna had been telling us about the festival during dinner at Lazeez’s (the best fish n’ chips in Chipata and a killer garlic sauce too!). Later in the night I was reading a-not-so recent issue of TIME magazine, when the festival reappeared in an article. Two independent sources. One night. I instantly felt the need to go. Plus, the notion of music, beach, exotic location in Africa, and the proceeds go to help development projects in Malawi. Fun, frolic, and a good cause.

Lake of Stars Music Festival here I come.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to convince anyone else to take up the adventure. Flying solo… no problemo. Despite only meeting her the previous weekend, I called Anna in route and arranged to meet her in Lilongwe.

Getting there was the first adventure.

Hitchhiking in Africa for some reason doesn’t have the same ominous overtones as you find in the rest of the world. Or perhaps I am just oblivious to them. Anyway, if the Lonely Planet Bible says it’s ok, I’ll believe it’s ok. The first hitch was easy. A friend of a friend of a friend who was going to the boarder for some dubious reason with a carcass of a goat in the back of the truck. Luckily, I got the front seat. As I passed through the boarder I eyed up the vehicle registration window. There was a man who I recognized from doing grocery shopping at Shoprite and had heard he was one of the long term Catholic Priest from Europe. He stopped to let several Africans climb into the bed of the pick-up truck and nodded when I asked for a lift too. The next phases wasn’t as smooth as I waited for sometime with a roadside plant seller for the next vehicle. Everything that passed was exploding with passengers or hitchers. Finally a lift.

After a bit of miscommunication, I met Anna and another former VSO volunteer, Nilesh. Nilesh would be my host for the evening and I’d meet Anna the next afternoon for a lift with yet another volunteer. The volunteering network is amazing. Not only had I managed to make it all the way to Mangochi on the south banks of Lake Malawi, I had done it cheaply, and happily discovered that one of the volunteers in Malawi works with a person who has a house DIRECTLY ON the site on the festival. We could cheaply camp here and the extra money would go to the orphanage. Win-win.

The next three days were sans shoes as we lazily made our way between the camp and the two stages. White sand and palm trees. Tempting waters (albeit infested with bilharzias) for mid-afternoon cool down swims. Although vigilant security made sure there was no swimming after dusk. Hippos and crocodiles… enough said.

The music was a mix of international and African artists. The Maccabees and SWAY. Local reggae set the atmosphere with the Black Missionaries and others performances. During the day, as people slept off hangovers beachside, theater troops and small musicians entertained the wary. A string of Deejays played dance music until well after the sun came up. It’s one of those things… you might as well be one of the ones enjoying it because you sure as hell can’t sleep through it.

Most mornings I’d seek a couple hour refuge in my hammock after watching the sun paint the sky pink and unveil the mountains of Mozambique across the lake. Except one morning. A rather gianormous baboon was investigating my sleeping spot… I might have been hallucinating from lack of sleep. But to be safe I decided to go for a nap on the beach. I really have no desire to get that close with the African wildlife.

Anna and Nilesh were skipping the last day and heading back to Lilongwe. I, however, wasn’t quite ready to leave, rationalizing that since I came all this way missing one day of work would be ok, so found an alternative ride. At every speedy bump, every hole in the road, we had to get out of the car so that it wouldn’t drag. I didn’t say I had a luxury ride.

Luke used to work in the north of Malawi and was extending his trip to go back to check out the projects. They were exciting sounding… to a farming nerd. And seriously what is another couple of days off work if I’m going to go see something that is somewhat-relevant to what I’m working on. So the next morning we set off for Usisya.

You can only get to Usisya two ways. The treacherous road or the weekly ferry. Time was not on our side so we were left to travel via the former. Through the hilly mountainous landscape. The way car ‘road’ gave way to a menacingly steep slope. What would happen if two cars tried to pass??? Usisya is a village of brick houses with thatched roofs. ‘Streets’ of white sand. Mammoth balboa trees. Brahma cattle that the walking ‘cowboys’ would wrangle into stick enclosures at the water’s edge. Fisherman’s nets lay on the sand or strewn across the handmade canoes that appear ready to tip at the slightest fraction of movement.

I check out the clinic with the local Peacecorps volunteer, a school, and community gardens. But mostly I just soak in the atmosphere. After all, I am on vacation.

The after-festival party was happening all week in Nkhata Bay. Crystal blue waters that could easily be mistaken for the sea. Not only was there a reunion of festival co-conspirators but I happen into a troop of VSO vols from Zambia. Crazy world… how does it all seem to come together???

Nevertheless, all good things must come to an end.

I opt for public transport for the return trip to Chipata. As it would be dark soon this seemed the safest option. Seemed. The taxi loaded 7 people into the car… plus the driver… and 4 people in the trunk. Good thing I only packed a bag big enough for a 3 days. Night had set and there was no electricity along the road. The car stopped. But this was not the boarder. Where were we? The driver said I’d have to walk the last kilometer as we was out of gas. However, he wasn’t so happy when I refused to way the full fare. This was not the boarder. Two tomato sellers escorted me safely to immigration. I was the only person attempting the border crossing. 30-day tourist visas to Malawi are free. However, the immigration fellows where seeking a ‘rich’ tourist to give them a bit of extra cash. I was not going to fall victim to corruption. They said I had overstayed my visa… I was not in Malawi for 30 days. I’d have to return to Lilongwe to immigration… impossible at this time of night. But they could help me for a mere $50 US. No thank you, I’ll sit here until morning. After nearly 30 minutes the border guards realized I was A. not going back to Lilongwe and B. not going to pay them. Passport stamped.

Seems my luck had run out. The shared taxi waiting on the other side in Zambia wasn’t so willing to take a single passenger for the same cost as a car full. As we wait I try not to notice the numerous cracks in the front window and the lack of one headlight. Again, not a luxury ride. After 30 minutes of waiting I venture to suggest that it would be better to make some money than nothing at all. Anyway I’m 100% certain he’d squeezed in a few extra passengers over the course of the day. I bargain hard, the speedometer sores, and we’re off to Chipata. I’m looking forward to home…


A couple weeks later…

Spontaneously I decided to meet John and Betty in Lilongwe (they are proud owners of a 4-wheel drive vehicle) and then travel with them (and John’s brother and an America guy) to Nkhata Bay for a long weekend. I was feeling a bit under-appreciated at work as the boss seems not to understand why his cross-boarder trading idea is not good for the economy or the farmers in the long run (besides slightly illegal… as if anything completely legal goes down on the ‘Dark Continent’). So off to Malawi for the weekend… again.

Less stress… equally enjoyable.

Opting to go back to Lundazi (north of Chipata) with John and Betty to try my luck at meeting a local marketing effort called “It’s Wild”. I had heard that it was a similar business modal as the one I was trying to set up with CDFA. Interesting project to say the least. I spent the day with a personal guide seeing the processing of rice, peanut butter, honey, and high-energy-protein-supplements.

Met a group of VSO’s for pre-dinner drinks at the Lundazi ‘Castle’. Really a mini-castle from colonial times (not-so-long-ago) on a mini lake home to two random and famously out of place hippos.

3 am bus back to Chipata… just in time to head straight to the office. Yeah.

People on the bus. (23 September 2009)

For one quarter during undergrad, I would jump on the number 2 bus to downtown Columbus. Sometimes, I’d wait for the next bus transfer to Columbus State but most times, I’d walk from High Street because this seemed like A.) a long wait B.) a long ride. However, in retrospect, I now can say that was one of the speediest buses I’ve ever taken.

Last Sunday morning I tiptoed around the cabin, collecting my few belongings by light of my headlamp. Stopping by the camp kitchen for my food stash. A loaf of bread, guava juice, and a drinkable butterscotch flavored yoghurt. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’d been advised the day before to be at the station at 4:30 am… uh, no thank you. I wasn’t that eager to make the trip home to Chipata. Thus, I made the mile plus walk from the hostel at a lazy 6:15 am.

Bombarded by a flood of bus boys wanting me to board their coaches, I waved my pre-purchased ticket. And was, literally, shoved on to the furthest bus labeled ‘Malawi’. Fact is, when a bus is tagged for another country, it does nothing to wane the anticipation of a freaking long trip ahead. The bus was half full. The empty seats filled with random hand luggage to give the appearance of a full bus, thus nearly ready to depart as buses only do when FULLY loaded. I squeezed to the back past the merchants selling cooking pots, colorful fabrics, flashing hologram Barak Obama belt buckles, pastel suckers, Coca-cola and Fanta, fake Gucci purple crocodile wallets, sporting shoes and loafers.

Now start the math.

6:30 am

I plopped into a seat, rolling up a sarong against the dirt streaked window for a pillow. Sleep.


I woke up from pressure against my knees as someone pressed into the seat in front of me. What do tall people do, if my knees knock the seat? Still no movement. More sleep.


A woman asks if anyone is sitting beside me. No. She leaves her bag.


Woman returns, retrieves the bag and selects another seat


A man sits beside me. Sleep is still a good idea.


I’m sweating profusely. Still at the bus station. I spy two empty seats… remaining pessimistic I sleep.


We make movement.

Brushing up on my arithmetic, that’s just over 4 hours on the bus and the journey has yet to begin. Thankfully, I made two trips to the toilet at the hostel in the morning, squeezing every drop out of the bladder. Trust me, no one wants to be the one who makes the bus stop along the side of the road. Squatting in snake invested brush with no real cover for privacy while the other riders peep at your awkwardness. Or wait for the next toilet stop… which is 12 hours away.

8:30 pm

Arrive home in Chipata.

What had I done to deserve this trip? I was summonsed to Immigration in Lusaka to retrieve my work permit. That took 2 hours. I compensated myself with 4 days of laying poolside (albeit at a cheap-o hostel where I shared a cabin with 7 other poverty stricken travelers), drinking cold beer, eating ice cream, and going dancing. Life was good… then I boarded the bus back to reality.


I’m typing up flip charts this evening. Products of group work activities from a workshop I helped to facilitate earlier today… thought I’d share a bit of the farmers’ thoughts written in the local language, Nanja.

- Maindedwe opita kumsika akhala obvuta

- Kubyala mbeu zosayenelelana ndi nyengo

- Misika lzi khala pafupi ndi alimi

- Miseu ikhale yokonzedwa bwino

I have absolutely noooooo idea what that says. I’ve become accustomed to thunderous laughter at my meager attempts at pronunciation of foreign languages. Some people are linguistically gift. I am not. Indeed, life would be so much easier in English… but would it be as interesting?

La-la-la… Kulamba! (14 September 2009)

Sitting out in the garden earlier today soaking in the warm sunshine over lunch, our garden boy, Moses and I chatted about the previous volunteers that he has ‘gardened’ for. (Notably Moses knows quite little about actual gardening… and working. But he at least makes an attempt to pretend to be working hard when we come home for lunch. And I find him humorous… so we continue to gently remind him each day what to do.)

“She was mean.”

“She had a lot of boyfriends.”

“She was a drunkard.”

So, Moses, what will you say about me when I leave!

Only good things he replied… surely like the flowery remembrances of my predecessors. He adds, “You are my sunshine.” Picking up a carrot stick from the veggie plate with a wrinkle of his nose and click of his tongue, I think he will probably complain about of how I feed him ‘rabbit food’.

Moses has also told me on numerous occasions that he will give me his last name and build me house if I stay in Chipata… this may or may not be some kind of marriage proposal.


Engulfed in a constant haze of dust. So much Maria and Malombo wore face masks and my photos are blurred in a sea of floating debris. Kulamba is the thanksgiving ceremony for the Chewa people. It pays tribute (“giving gifts” ie. $$$$) to Paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi by his subordinate chiefs and subjects of the Chewa kingdom. “Kalonga is a Chewa word meaning ‘the one who enthrones or installs subordinate chiefs’ while Gawa means ‘the one who gives out land. Undi means the one who protects his subjects.” The Paramount Chief is head of something like over 11 million Chewa people, encompassing parts of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. The Presidents of each of these countries also swoops in by helicopter for the big event. As do numerous ‘subordinate’ chiefs. And royalty of the Ngoni tribe.

Kulamba is held annually in late August (although this year was the beginning of September to accommodate the Presidents and special guests) just west of Chipata outside the town of Katete at the ‘Mkaika Palace’ (although it notably has more in common with a barren drought-ridden corn field than it does with Buckingham Palace).

Was it from the dancers? The rhythmic drummers? Or the throngs of people who came from Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique by the truck load? What makes this so special? Undeniably it’s the combination and a traditional culture that has remained unchanged for centuries (except perhaps for the means of transportation).

“The ceremony exhibits a variety of more than 30 different types of ‘Nyau’ dances with different masks, each being performed at specific occasions.” Young teen and pre-teen girls on the banks of the River of Womanhood are paraded in under cloth. They kneel topless and shake as if consumed. An interpretation of adulthood and marriage are taught and expressed via dance. But it is ‘Gule Wamkulu’ that steals the spot light. A highly celebrated event performed by men. Said to involve witchcraft, the dance is only open to members of a secret society. Men disguise their identities by donning masks of feathers, long noses, werewolf-esque features, and various other forbidding sorts are led into the circles of people by shakers to announce their arrival. Men in funky attire and masks walk on stilts through the crowds of people. Dancers contort their bodies and confront possible death atop high wooden poles that are haphazardly placed into dug out holes in the red dirt. The climax of the event takes place as one of the Nyau dancers shimmies across a sort of wire ‘tightrope’. It’s like a super cool circus minus the lion tamer… hopefully.

During a practice session at the Chipata Arts Center I was tipped to go the night prior to the big event. This proved a wise move. While we missed the main celebration, the presentation of the Royal/Presidential, guests and the endless speeches, we were rewarded by actually being able to see the dancing. Not only see… but Rosie and I found ourselves pushed dangerously close to the kicking dancers and entranced drummers. Scary, mesmerizing, thrilling… spectacular.

A trip to the clinic. (16 August 2009)

3 days straight. I’ve done nothing but sleep. Thus, I heeded Rosie’s (my housemates) instruction and went to the clinic. The ‘medical advisor’ (what exactly does qualify one to be a medical advisor??) put down his newspaper as he invited me to sit… he was obviously oblivious to the long line of patients seeking his advice as he skims through The Post.

How are you feeling today? He asked with a smile. Well, sir that’s why I have come to see you…

He read down a list of symptoms. No. No. No. No. No. Just tired. He looks at the palms of my hands and proclaims that I have ‘enough blood’. Ok, at this point I’m fairly confident that a medical advisor and doctor are not one in the same.

He appeases me by issuing several blood tests and sends me down the hall to sit on the wooden bench outside of the ‘lab’. The lab technician has dreadlocks swept under a Rastafarian-style hat. He pricks my finger and squeezes the tip with one hand as he rummages around the cluttered countertop for a clean slide. Yes, it does seem like a blood lab should have those in readily available supply. One hand is not enough for the search so he collects the deep red drop of blood on a piece of scrap paper and continues with a two-handed search. Success. He scraps the blood drop from the paper onto the slide. Totally contaminate free no-doubt.

Blood test results in hand, I’m sent back to the medical advisor to decipher the scribbles. Negative.

Mr. Medical Advisor asks “when was the last time you were de-wormed?” Hmmmm… never.

As I walk home, I vividly recall the results of de-worming a puppy we once had when I was a kid. It wasn’t pretty. And we didn’t eat spaghetti for quite some time after that. I really hope that my de-worming process won’t be quite as memorable…

Globalization (8 August 2009).

12 people. 7 nationalities. Indian. Spanish. Kenyan. American. British. German. Dutch. All sitting down together in Zambia for a dinner of Mexican food and South African wine. Conversation in 5 languages. Swahili. Spanish. English. German. Dutch.

A picture of globalization? Perhaps. Freaking cool? Definitely.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hello Mister - August Edition.

For each month of exile from Indonesia, I’ve agreed to write a contributing article for the monthly volunteer newsletter, Hello Mister. Thought I would also share on the blog…

Zambian Ramblings.
August Edition.

Remember the campaign by the beef industry that popularized the slogan… “where’s the beef?” Since arriving in Zambia, I have found my self asking a similar question… “where’s the rice?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. This girl loves her chips… nearly as much as tahu isi! But seriously, nobody warned me that I would indeed miss my rice. In absolute honesty I do, upon occasion, have cravings for what had become a near routine of rice for breakfast. Just so easy to put on the rice cooker and crawl back in bed for an extra 30 minutes. I can only imagine the look of pure perplexity if tomorrow morning I declare “please hold the sausage and eggs, I’ll have rice for breakfast.” Each morning my cholesterol-laden breakfast arrives on a silver platter; served by the hotel staff, where I live. Simply, I am a very spoiled guest. Perhaps, because I am the only guest. Embarking on the second month of African life and the novelty of being treated like a princess has yet to wear off. But then again, does it ever?

My fairy-godfather, waved his magic wand and rescued me on my second day in Zambia. How people make it through this critical lesson without a fairy-godfather is unfathomable. Maurice, a friend from when we did our Master's studies together at University of Reading, a local Zambian, my fairy-godfather, unfortunately could not magically make my missing-in-action luggage appear (these bags took the longer scenic route to Africa), however, he and his family did share a life skill pivot to survival for which I will be eternally grateful. I was guided through the art of eating nshima… with much laughter at my expense, I assure you. This is the staple food made of maize mealie meal. Think nasi equivalent. And as one would not eat nasi with a fork (*gasp*), there is no understating the importance of mastering the proper hand-rolling method of consumption. Thus immense thanks to Maurice for sharing skills… and changing lives.

I totally believe in karma. But what have I done to deserve such opulence? The luxury I write of is none other than Shoprite, the South African supermarket chain import, which is a mere 10 minute walk from my majestic dwellings. After ready this story of edible delight, you will all no doubt hold me to be in utter lunacy. And rightly so! Nevertheless, let me just add fuel to the fire… I have a quirky fondness for grocery shopping. This eccentric past-time has been squelched for the past year and a half. Now I can truly savor each excuse to escape into the fashionista House of Scrumptiousness. I glide dream-esquely through the aisles, lingering to ogle the fresh produce, inhaling the scent of yeast and fresh bakery goods, scrutinizing the nutritional content and ingredients of every item that slips into my crimson shopping basket. And at the end of this food safari… I buy a single bag of nutritiously dubious marshmallows.

These oddly pink marshmallows gave me the stamina to rock-the-socks-off my opponent in a weekly game of pool. During our last bout, I received disturbing news. As I am a woman, I apparently am not aloud to partake in the consumption of ground nuts. No peanuts? No kacang tanah? Simply because of my biological make-up? Preposterous. Nevertheless, I am admittedly intrigued… why the gender divide? Thus, if any of you can enlighten me on this feel free to email, text, phone, send smoke signals, etc.

Now, hold on as this story gets even nuttier (pun unashamedly intended). I was told the same gender bias holds true for cashew nuts. Blasphemy!!!! My new acquaintances had crossed the line. They obviously did not recognize my profound devotion to the glories of cashew nuts. Every man, woman, and child should indeed consume copious amounts of cashews… especially the epic taste sensations found on the island of Flores, Indonesia. Notably, the best kacang mete are packaged and distributed by Nature’s Delight. I can get you the hook-up… just ask.

With a bit of patriotism, I shall conclude these food-inundated ramblings. President Obama is periodically quoted in the Indonesian press of his nostalgic cravings for nasi goreng. Thus, in closing, I echo this hunger from an agreeable exile in Zambia… Indeed, Mr. President, where is the rice?
Playing a little catch-up…

I arrived in Zambia July 8th. After an arduous whaling trip; a week split between Bali and Nusa Lembongan; a two week vacation with my parents in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore; back to Bali for several days; home to Flores to pack up all my possessions; a farewell in Mbay and Maumere; and finally rounding out with a couple of days for sunning beachside Bali.


In lieu of a return ticket back to the states (as any good daughter/sister/relation/friend would do when offered a free trip home) I’ve negotiated a short term placement with VSO in Zambia. Waiting for more news on the visa situation… another postponement has pushed back the decision until (perhaps) sometime in August. Perhaps November. Perhaps February… this is a country notorious for it’s concept of ‘jam karat’ (rubber time). I’m staying open to opportunities. Here. There. Where ever… as long as there is a plane ticket and job waiting for me. And preferably a white sand beach… but that’s negotiable.

At least for the next couple of months, I am the Agri-business Advisor for the Chipata District Farmers Association (CDFA). Funny thing is, they don’t have any agri-business. It seems to be a bit of wishful thinking. Nevertheless, I am charged with developing some new spangled idea for increasing the incomes of the local farmers. The ideas and expectations are nothing less than grandiose. Being waltzed around town, introduced as an agribusiness expert is the epitome of embarrassment. More like a semi-unemployable bum who regularly attended classes on the topic (ie. geek) and can more or less feign comprehension. A total sham indeed I assure you.

A whale of a story. (3 June 2009)

My rational self says that I should not be on this bus going 10 hours away from my home. But there is an adventure to be had! There are whalers to be discovered! Do I sit and wait for the latest visa info from VSO to be delivered… which will inevitably be another email of uncertainty. Or… carpe diem? Due to impending visa changes, VSO maybe sending us home. Perhaps temporarily. Perhaps indefinitely, sans return tickets… so why not squeeze the life out what could be my last days of Indonesia life? Why accept the laissez-faire ‘waiting game’ that Indonesians seem to play so well? I’ve nearly forgotten the sense of empowerment derived from being proactive!

So let me tell you a whale of a story. At least that is what we set out in search of. Lembata is an island, a couple of hours by boat, off the very eastern tip of Flores. It also is home to a village what happens to be the only place on the planet where fisherman still go hunting for the big catch with spares. The really big catch. Whales.

By bus. By boat. By motorcycle. By truck. Nearly 20 hours divvied up over three days… each begun before dawn. I swung my legs out of the back of our ride, a truck lined with benches and crowded with fruits, vegetables, chickens, goats, people, plants, trees, and everything else stitched in sacks. With an aching bum and ringing ears from the deafening music (Seriously, I wear earplugs on all forms of public transportation!), I had arrived.

Paying the boys at the base of the steps seemed like a better idea than heaving my pack on to my back all the way up to the homestay. And believe me, it was money well spent. 32 steps later, I was sitting in a family’s house overlooking the beach. The town. The green mountains that seemed to continue straight into the depths of the cobalt blue sea. Starkly simple accommodation with a stellar view. The town doesn’t get loads of tourists… I was number 52 of the year to stay with this family. I know from the log book. And my guess is the only other place in town doesn’t have too many more… especially since it doesn’t have the view. Or the 32 gigantic steps.

The morning sun stretched shadows across the beach. The night shift rolled in with the waves, leaving their triumphant catch to be covered in sand. Butchered on the spot. Dolphins, sharks, and manta ray. Big indeed. And prize worthy. However, it’s with the sun overhead that the really big guys are caught.

The men worked in unison. Serious and steadfast. Each with a function. The captain. The rowers. The lookouts. Those that put up the sail. Those that guide the direction. And of course the man who stands at the front, ready to leap, to thrust himself, spear in hand, upon the would be catch of the day. Their livelihoods at stake. The wooden boat looks neither big enough nor strong enough to carry these men (and me!) to meet the powerful sea… let alone if it should meet a whale! The wind catching the handmade sail woven intricately from sundried palms. A few dolphins playfully leaping in and out of the water. Eight hours of maritime adventure… and a bottle of sunscreen to shield the burning reflection of the sun. But no whale. No catch. I am both happy and regretful. A curious dichotomy of emotion.

Back on land. A late lunch in the homestay. Rice accompanied with dried, tough, fried… dolphin. It was the same as breakfast. It was the same as dinner last night. And I have a feeling it will make another appearance for dinner this evening. Book this accommodation for the view… not the food.

The bus picks me up on it’s way by at 3 am. Sleeping on the trek back? Not a chance.


I lay on the bamboo platform out front of my bamboo bungalow. Roof woven from the copious palm leaves. The water sparkles in the mid day sun. Lapping softly onto the dark sand and rocky beach. Nearly reaching the curved trunks of the shady coconut trees under which recline. I spy 5 islands at various distances off the north coast of Flores. Sprouting volcanic peaks from the mysterious and endless sea. Me, the sea, and the sand crabs that dance across the beach. It is peace. Before flying to Bali to face my ‘deportation’, I spend an evening in a set of secluded beachfront bungalows just outside of Maumere. I make a mental note to shave my legs in preparation for re-entry into modern western society, as I walk back to my bungalow to retrieve my snorkel and mask for a mid-morning peak beneath the peaceful surface of the sea. On these island adventures, I never leave home with out my snorkeling gear. Terribly practical, indeed! Unwinding from what could quite possibly be my last Flores adventure. Time for blogging. Time for snorkeling.

Banishment from Indonesia sucks.