I’ve got spirit

Spirit stoves, that is.


A spirit stove in action

Methylated spirits are a liquid typically used as a cleaning and sterilizing agent that is commonly found in tuck shops throughout rural Zambia. Think purple rubbing alcohol. They’re also highly flammable, so they make a great fuel for small-scale cooking when you don’t care to go through the process of lighting a brazier just to make your morning coffee.


Getting ready to test my first stove and windscreen/pot holder, v1.1

Spirits can be poured into just about any metal container and then lit on fire to generate heat, but the most efficient way to use spirits as fuel is to make a spirit stove. By repurposing old soda cans, tuna cans, or coffee cans, you can make a great little stove in about ten minutes that works perfectly for heating enough water to make coffee, oatmeal, or ramen.


Stove v2.1 (smaller, more efficient) with more stable windscreen/pot holder

A spirit stove with methylated spirits is lighter than a backpacking stove with Isopro canister at a fraction of the cost. Definitely going to take one of these with me on my next backcountry fishing trip in the States!


Igniting the stove by lighting the fuel on the ignition pan, which heats up the spirits inside the stove until they start steaming out the burners

And because I have a bit of an addictive personality, I couldn’t stop at just making one.


From left to right, meet Old Faithful (v1.1), Chet Morton (v2.1), and Thumper (v2.2)



I was going to write about the newest seasonal food group available this time of year here in Zambia, but my friend Terri already has a great post about caterpillars up on her blog. Check it out!

The Wanderer in Zambia

22 October 2013

Kayonga. Ifitobo. Utubambe. Cinamusanse. Mumpa. Cipumi. Finamuyungolo. Nalifipata.

The names spill out of Bwalya’s mouth as he ticks them off on his fingers, eyes rolled upward, trying to remember all of them and telling me, emphatically, which ones are the most delicious. He is practically drooling.

This was back in July, but now it is upon us: caterpillar season.








Not everywhere in Zambia. Mainly here in Northern Province. And especially in Mfuba. Why? Because we still have a lot of trees. For now.

For the moment, the caterpillars are everywhere. I squish them under my bike tires, though I try not to. I pluck them off the walls inside my house and toss them outside. I watch them devouring all the fresh, green leaves that have magically appeared in this hottest and driest of months.

I’ve proclaimed my yard an…

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Ntumbacusi Falls


One of the lower stretches of Ntumbacusi Falls

Zambia’s Independence Day is October 24. This is also the day that Zambians tell you the rains start. Every year. According to older Peace Corps volunteers, this is hardly ever the actual day of the wet season’s first rain. No matter, everybody still predicts that the rains will come on the 24th. Something like the Zambian version of Groundhog Day.


My trusty steed and I

Rain or no rain, I decided to celebrate by going camping at Ntumbacusi Falls with several other volunteers. This gorgeous series of waterfalls is a favorite camping spot among Luapula volunteers and is only 55 kilometers away from Nshinda. Within easy biking distance! I thought happily. Later: I forgot about the hills, I remembered ruefully.


Looking downstream below the falls

Oh well. On the 24th I started biking at 5:30am and arrived at the falls three and a half hours (and a couple of burning calves) later none the worse for wear. We had a great time swimming and exploring the various falls and eating tons of food over the next two days, and then yesterday morning I rode back shaving 40 minutes off my time from Thursday.


It's caterpillar season; these guys were everywhere


The bamayos will soon start selling these on the side of the road as relish

A fun excursion and a welcome respite from this heat. I’m still waiting for that Independence Day rain.


At the big falls

Batshit crazy

I hear noises at night.

Most of them have perfectly logical explanations: the unsettling flapping is the wind slipping inside the space created by the plastic covering the inside of my roof, the ominous rumbling is an 18-wheeler passing by on the tarmac, the mournful ululating cry is a boy calling to a friend across the village, the sharp thud on the ground near my porch is a mango falling from the nearby tree. And the sound of boisterous teenagers laughing on my front porch is probably caused by boisterous teenagers laughing on my front porch.

However, some of the noises aren’t as easily explained, like the dull scratching sound and high-pitched squeaks coming from the plastic directly over my head as I lay in bed every night. I know I’ve got an uninvited tenant taking up residence in my attic. I just don’t know who or what it is.

Earlier this week I was hammering some more nails into my roof to reduce flappage (and rentable attic space) and what appeared to be dried mud slid down the plastic. I briefly wondered why there would be mud underneath my thatched roof, but I have a strict don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it comes to odd things in Zambia. (If I really don’t want to know the answer, why ask the question?) I thought nothing more of it and continued happily hammering away.


Then the other evening I was washing dishes in the kitchen when a scrabbling sound above me prompted me to look up. Something was moving between the plastic and the thatched grass in the same spot where I had seen the mud earlier. I gave it an exploratory poke with my solar lamp, the only blunt weapon-like object I had close at hand. It squeaked. Ew, a mouse, I thought. Wonderful. I whacked it through the plastic and a small furry form slid limply down onto the wall, dead.

Then I took a closer look at the critter and saw that it had wings. Realization dawned. Jim Carrey’s voice echoed in my head: “Guano!”

That’s where the mud came from. That’s what’s been living in my roof. And that explains the abrasion on your palm! [Does best Ace Ventura victory dance in his hut. Is grateful that he lives alone so nobody else witnesses this.]

Yeah. I’ve gone batshit crazy.

October is the cruellest month

They warned me it was going to be miserable. They said to imagine uncomfortable heat and then multiply that by ten. They told me that my district was the worst. One volunteer who finished her service in Nchelenge District a few years ago said that it got so bad she’d take off all her clothes and lay on her concrete floor, the coolest place in her hut. She joked that if she were to die from the heat her village would find a big dead naked white woman spread-eagle on the floor and think that some bad juju was at work. It was funny. I laughed at the time.

I’m not laughing anymore. It’s the middle of October and I have become accustomed to performing all of my daily tasks drenched in sweat. Cooking? Sweat. Biking to town to buy groceries? Sweat. Meeting a fish farmer? Sweat. Sitting near the well waiting to draw water? Sweat. Reading in my hut? So much sweat.


This means that a cold shower at 5pm is the highlight of my day. This means that I have to spray myself with more water before I jump underneath my mosquito net at night. This means that every evening I lay in bed in my birthday suit, motionless, a sheen of sweat creeping over the backs of my thighs as I fantasize about ice, frigid mountain lakes, and commercials for light beer.

Hard to believe that I took this photo just a year ago -- a fall sunset in the Sierra Nevada

Hard to believe that I took this photo of a fall sunset in the Sierra Nevada just one year ago — to see more, click on the image to visit my alpine fishing and backpacking blog

To rub some salt in the wound, October is my favorite time of year back home. If I were in America I’d be backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness right now, tramping on the fall’s first dusting of snow, fly fishing for brown trout as big as your thigh. I’d be drinking pumpkin lattes and eating garlic-encrusted Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions. I’d be watching Cal play uninspired football, looking on as some team that isn’t the Mariners advances to the World Series. I’d be wearing a soft black cashmere sweater with Allen Edmonds wingtips with my favorite slim-leg tapered chinos.

I wouldn’t be floundering around naked in my own sweat like a beached whale at 11 o’clock at night.

I’m so over hot season.

Good days and bad days


These little devils have been the cause of both good days and days that try my patience

It’s a popular adage that you have good days and bad days in the Peace Corps. However, this is kind of like saying that you are happy on your wedding day, or it hurts when you get shot. Is it true? Sure. Does it adequately describe the situation? Not particularly.

Some days I stand just inside my door for what feels like an eternity, paralyzed with anxiety, listening to the bustle of village life outside my hut and mentally willing myself to step outside and face another day. Some days I am wracked with guilt and self-doubt, crippled by the fear that I’m not doing enough and disillusioned by the sobering realization that whatever I do won’t matter in the long run anyway. Some days I learn over and over again that you can be surrounded by people and still feel hopelessly alone.

On these days I can’t avoid the sinking sensation that I’ve made a huge mistake in joining the Peace Corps, that I don’t belong here and never will.

Other days I bound outside like I’ve been living in rural Zambia all my life, cheerfully interrogating the flock of children in my insaka on what they studied in school that day and complimenting 4-year-old Shatelle on her new braids. I exchange funny faces with my headman’s 11-year-old daughter Maggie as she skips along the path in front of my hut, I dispense high-fives like Pez to a throng of raucous iwes as I sail past on my bike, I tease the bamayos at the well and joke about how men never do any work. And I begin to feel maybe for the first time in my life that I am truly a part of a community.

On these days I float on clouds, buoyed by a kind of effervescent love that emanates from being at peace with my place in the world and everything in it. On these days I realize that the simple bonds of fellowship and common purpose have the power to move mountains.

Sometimes the good days and the bad days happen all on the same morning. Fancy that.

What I’ve been reading

Inspired by my friend and fellow Luapula PCV Caitlyn, who has a page on her blog listing the books she’s read during her service (http://caittate.wordpress.com/) I decided to add a similar feature to Fishing In Zambia.

Reading List

The books I read often influence both how I write and what I think about, so I like to go back through my journal and blog to see if I can notice the effect of a particular novel on that day’s entry or reflections.

I wish I could say I choose my book list carefully with this causal relationship in mind, but I must confess that for every book I deliberately seek out based on critical acclaim or a friend’s recommendation, I read three more that carry no other significance than that they represent easy entertainment.

Hence the reason why you’ll find Ron Jeremy’s autobiography sandwiched between two Jane Austen classics. Gotta keep the literary influences diversified.