i guess the big news coming out of zambia recently is that the presidential elections have come and gone, largely without incident. there were a few riots in lusaka, kitwe, and ndola, but for the most part things were peaceful as was expected. i was a bit chagrined to learn that the zam elections hadn't really cracked the u.s. news cycle--it was a huge deal here in zambia of course, and even across africa as a lot of people watched closely to see if zambia's reputation for peaceful elections would remain intact. fortunately it did, zambia has way too many problems already to add violence to the mix.
we were in standfast mode for about 10 days, which means all pcv's were confined to their villages and not allowed to travel. things were very slow in muyembe during that time, even by village standards, as most people were preoccupied with the elections and not interested in doing much other than listening to the radio or discussing the latest developments. so, i did a lot of small projects around my hut, worked on my garden, read, wrote, and listened to the bbc to get updates on the election. there was some controversy as the leading opposition candidate, michael sata, accused the incumbent, levy mwanawasa, of stealing the election, but all the election monitors have declared it legitimate and honest. there are some who have their doubts still but the point is moot since mwanawasa has been sworn in already for his second term.
i traveled down to mansa yesterday with 3 other pcv's, but before we came down we spent a day and night at a volunteer's house in mwense district. during the afternoon on thursday we decided to go swimming in a local waterhole, a glorious event as it was actually deep enough to plunge in over my head. the water was cloudy and according to katie, the pcv who lives there, the villagers said there were snakes that hung out by the water. but, we kept our eyes open and didn't see anything that required me to run screaming out of the water. we got out and had walked 15 or 20 yards with me bringing up the rear, cleaning my glasses with my head down when i heard a loud crashing/rustling noise. i looked up to see the tall grass that edged the waterhole shaking violently as a large something that i couldn't see rushed through towards the water. brette and katie had frozen in front of me, and i noticed the latter's mouth was gaping open. "what was that?" i asked. "that," said brette, "was a crocodile." naturally, i was interested to learn if a crocodile had truly been hanging out on the edge of the waterhole we had been swimming in for about 15 minutes; we talked about it longer and they were both positive that what they had seen was indeed a croc that was probably 4 or 5 feet long. we decided taking an alternate route back to katie's hut was in order, and the trip back was made in stunned silence, broken only by the occasional "you've got to be kidding," and "that was crazy."
we told the story to some village boys who wandered up, and they told us that what we had seen was actually a large monitor lizard. but, brette and katie still think it was a crocodile as they got a good look at it, and pointed out that it doesn't seem likely monitor lizards get as large as what they'd seen.
my other animal story comes from my friend travis. he was bathing several days ago and something was itching on his back. he reached for a small mirror he keeps hung up in his bathing shelter to check it out--he happened to glance up right before he grabbed the mirror and saw a snake placidly resting on the top edge of it. he said later that at that moment he was torn: he couldn't decide whether to simply abandon all dignity and run from his bathing shelter stark naked in a bid to save his life, or attempt to get dressed before running out and hope the snake wasn't feeling particularly aggressive. he decided his life wasn't in imminent danger and managed to get his shorts on before bolting to find his neighbor who came over and bludgeoned the thing to death. according to the neighbor the snake was a black mamba, but they can be difficult to identify so the jury is still out on that one. travis said he then walked back to his hut and felt in some ways as if he had cheated death, seeing as only moments before he had nearly placed his hand on a black mamba (which are extremely bad-tempered), and that he should commemorate the moment. so he sat down, got out a spoon and ate a kilogram of raw sugar to "celebrate life," as he put it. soon after he felt sick of course, but he doesn't regret it.
transport can be hairy in zambia, but usually provides fodder for a lot of good stories later. on our way down to mansa we were absolutely crammed into a large bus that was already over-filled. travis ended up standing in the aisle with several other people, brette and katie sat up front in the bus door/driver's area, while i sat on a wooden locker behind the partition that separates the driver from the rest of the bus. a lady with a young child sat next to me, and the child proceeded to kick me in the thigh throughout the trip. riding that far up front is neat though as you have a good view of the road and can watch pedestrians, cyclists, and goats scatter before the bus' approach. of course, i was also able to scrutinize the cracks that spider-webbed across the entire length of the large front window, and had a clear view of the dashboard area that housed the odometer, speedometer, etc.; it was somewhat disconcerting to observe a red light that spelled "STOP" blinking there for the duration of our trip.