Wrapping it Up

Well, our tour of duty in Zambia officially ended late January, when Thom returned home for good.  It was a busy autumn for me, going back and forth from here to Zambia, and supervising the building of our barn and remodeling of our new home here in Northwest Michigan.  During this time our oldest son also got married (to a wonderful woman!) in Colorado and we spent Christmas with relatives in North Carolina.  Thom was even busier, organizing workshops and conducting research in Lusaka, while giving some side talks at Cornell and in Washington, D.C.   I quickly achieved Gold frequent flyer status and Thom’s a Platinum member now.  We’re ready to stop traveling for a while and are really ready to come back and live in the U.S.!

How to sum up our Zambia experience?  It was very different for Thom than it was for me.  For him, it was incredibly busy with boatloads of meetings, politics, research, analysis, writing, travel and much more.  It was rewarding for him too, in that he accomplished his goal (with lots of uber qualified colleagues, of course) of establishing an independent, Zambia-based and run, agricultural policy center.  The Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute (IAPRI) was launched a full year before schedule and is now run under the able leadership of Chance Kabaghe.  Chance and Thom are truly peas in a pod, brothers in heart.


For me, it was like a wonderful, magical vacation on a remote island.  I gardened, baked bread, made cheese, got a puppy (our beloved butterball Boerbel Coco), explored the area and enjoyed the company of some wonderful women (esp. Emily, Cassie and Tendayi).

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But, sometimes no matter how wonderful a vacation is, you just get to the point where you’re ready for it to be over.  I got to that point about 1.5 years into the experience.  It’s actually pretty boring in Zambia (safe, but boring).  I had done what I could to improve someone else’s home but I got very itchy to get back to the U.S. and set up our new homestead and start building our gardens and raising animals.

A lot of information given in this blog is probably out of date now. For example, as of January 1 this year (2013), the government rebased the currency by dropping the last three 0’s, such that 50,000 kwacha is now 50 kwacha. You have until June 30th to turn in all old currency for new.  Here is what the new currency looks like.

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Now that I’ve been back for a few months I find that I sometimes miss our sunny easy life in Lusaka, especially with the amount of snow we had this winter.  I also miss our wonderful guard Bernard and Danny the gardener who, with the savings they made working for us, quit their jobs and opened a pub together.  If you can believe it, Bernard the guard worked a full two years for us (or really G4S, the security company), 6 days a week (including holidays), 6 am – 6 pm, and missed only one day in two years (when his family got malaria).  One missed day in a 6-day workweek, 12 hours a day, over a two year period!!!!  Amazing.  (Photo: Bernard on the left and Danny on the right, sorting clothes we brought for them to distribute to their community.)


So, this post wraps up “Letters for Lusaka.  Thank you for joining us on our African adventure.  I’ve appreciated all of your comments and even better, made some new friends through this blog that will last a lifetime.

We’re beginning to enjoy our new life here, and liking our homestead more and more each day.  More importantly, we love being near some of our kids, who are an absolute joy to have around (we love having adult children – they’re so pleasant and helpful!). Perhaps it’s time to start a new blog – something on starting a new homestead (with animals, gardening, friends) in rural northwest Michigan?  Here are some photos marking the start of this new chapter in our lives.



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Thank you for your love these past two years!  May your lives be full of joy and peace.

Posted in About Zambia | 14 Comments

Buyer’s Delight!

Now that I’ve had a few days and nights in this new house, I’ve really come to appreciate why they sited it where they did.  It’s actually perfect.  The rising sun comes through the front bank of windows and is perfect for morning work.  The kitchen window faces the sunrise and it’s better than a cup of coffee for waking up.

The driveway is perfectly sited at the bottom of the hill for maximum privacy, yet, at the same time, one can glance out any of the front windows and see someone enter it.  The top photo shows the drive from the house and then a telephoto shot.

The back of the house faces southwest and is perfect for relaxing and watching the sun set over the tree line.  Some of the trees have started to turn colors already and the way the setting sun plays off the shadows and light is spectacular.  Laying on the bed in the master bedroom, I can clearly see the garage, the guest house way up on the hill, and the whole west countryside – again, perfectly sited.

I had the builder for the barn here Tuesday and like the inspector, his comments were along the lines of, “someone knew what they were doing when they did this duct work” and “this is really a top-notch state-of-the-art system” (with reference to the radiant heating/on-demand hot water system) and “this is sure built solid, look at that framework” (I look, and nod happily).

Sooooo, it’s safe to say that my buyer’s remorse (which was really just despair over dirt and weeds) has been replaced by buyer’s delight.  There are several things we want to do inside the house but the bones are solid and of great quality.

This past weekend I drove down to Lansing to go to my friend Shelley’s 50th birthday party on Saturday (she’s waaayyyyyy older than me, for the record) and then my department chair at MSU’s memorial service. The puppies and I stayed at my dear friend Bridget’s home and Coco got introduced to her sheep and goats.  Of course, because everyone loves Coco, Bridget and her husband Joedy now want (and need!) a boerboel.   This is how wonderful it is to stay at Bridget’s house – she used a special bedspread so the babies could sleep on the bed with me if I wanted and she had a bag of doggy toys for when we had to leave them home alone.  The dogs settled right in and seemed to enjoy their first stay at the Happy Goat Lucky Ewe fiber farm.  Thank you Bridget and Joedy for your hospitality!!

Regarding my department chair (yes, I’m still faculty if you can believe it, albeit adjunct now!), Dr. Chuck Atkin died unexpectedly in his sleep two weeks ago – it was/is a huge shock for everyone and it was fantastic reconnecting with some people in the Communication Arts & Sciences building at MSU.  Seems like a completely other life to me (my life as a professor).  I guess it is since it’s even under a different name.

Chuck was the quirkiest person I’ve ever known and a fantastic department chair.  It’s hard “supervising” faculty because we’re all a bossy bunch who want our own way all of the time.  Chuck did a good job of giving us what we all wanted so we all were/are an incredibly productive group.  My main memory of him is him walking down the hall with little scraps of paper where he had tallied up the ways in which our department was #1.  “Did you know that MSU faculty and grads hold the majority of positions on editorial boards?” “I just calculated that MSU faculty published the most in the top three journals over the past three years.”  “You’ll be happy to know that MSU’s graduate students presented the most papers at ICA [the International Communication Association] this past year.”  You get the picture.  Some of us doubted his numeration skills but just nodded and smiled when he announced a new way in which our department was #1.  I have such a soft spot in my heart for Chuck and am grateful for everything he’s done for me and MSU.  Same goes for his wife, Dr. Sandi Smith, who is one of the truly, truly good people in the world. Love to both and prayers and support to Sandi as she learns to live without Chuck.

Today I meet the zoning administrator for the siting of our barn and tomorrow I’m off to Lafayette, Louisiana, for my soon-to-be daughter-in-love’s bridal shower!

Posted in Guests, On the Road | 8 Comments

A Rested Person is a Happy Person

Wow! The world looks so much more promising and cooperative to me when I feel rested and fed.  Within 24 hours of arriving at our new home I got internet(!!!!! can you believe it??? I love America. This is the photo of the modem)…

…cherry-walnut-sourdough bread from my favorite bakery…

…a super-clean top-to-bottom house (including walls, ceilings, concrete floors in basement, tops of doors, you name it)…

…a new mailbox…

…four jars of Mrs. Renfro’s Hot Green Salsa (our whole family is completely addicted to this salsa; Alex brought a case with him to the West Indies when he moved there)…

…and, shelf paper installed in the bathrooms, two appointments for people to come give estimates for building a barn by October 1, and a next-day service air duct/furnace cleaner coming today.

Getting the internet service so quickly is especially a miracle to me.  I called about five vendors Friday morning and none had service in our area, too rural.  Then, the housecleaner (who completely redeemed herself by cleaning exactly how I wanted it done and where I wanted it done) mentioned that she used Verizon, and that all it entailed was buying a little modem box and plugging it in.  At that moment our real estate agent’s wife called and she told me there was a new Verizon store ten minutes from us, so off I went and within an hour I had plug and play internet service (and it is $120/month cheaper than what we had in Africa).  Wow!  I love America.

Just when the day couldn’t get any better a dear friend from my writer’s group called and said she and her boyfriend were in Frankfort and did I want to meet for dinner.  I was feeling pretty loopy from disrupted/no sleep but I went anyways.  They came over afterwards to tour the homestead.  Here is a photo of Elizabeth and Lexi, our first visitors.

I have a short story to tell about Elizabeth.  My first year in Peninsula Writer’s group I roomed with her and another long-term member, Robyn, at the annual Glen Lake summer retreat (this retreat is what introduced me to Glen Lake).  There were vertical blinds on our sliding glass door overlooking the lake.  Apparently (and completely subconsciously), when the blinds were closed and not falling straight and even, I would straighten up each one as I passed.  To play with my mind, she and Robyn used to mess them up on purpose and giggle watching me straighten them out.  Evil writer twins!  Who would have thought I was that compulsive??? (Don’t answer that please…:) )

Posted in About Zambia | 3 Comments

Buyer’s Remorse!

Prior to leaving Zambia I had arranged (at great cost) to have the house cleaned top to bottom – walls, ceilings, windows, floors, cabinets scrubbed, bathrooms, closets/drawers, etc.  I can’t stand to live in a dirty house and knew that if it was dirty when I arrived, I’d stay up all night cleaning.  Well, when I arrived Robert our handyman from Lansing, who is chinking and sealing the houses and garage for us (and he’s doing a great job – it looks beautiful!)  said, “you hired someone to clean the house?” I said yes.  He said, “oh, you’re not going to be happy,” and he was right.  The good news is that the smell of cigarette smoke was pretty much gone but the bad news is that the kitchen cabinets were sticky and crusty, the oven had food still baked onto it, the drawers were full of crumbs and the detritus of other persons’ lives, and there were dead bees all over the floor.

Robert said the housecleaner came by herself and spent the whole day cleaning the walls and ceiling, but nothing else.  (Which means she got paid on par with a rock star if the payment was broke down into an hourly wage.)

On top of it, the yard was completely overgrown, covered with weeds, and in some places it was hard to see the concrete given the weed cover.

Most of the window cranks didn’t work (and/or the windows wouldn’t close unless someone went outside and beat them with a hammer).   The refrigerator was stinky and the paint inside it was peeling.  The dishwasher wouldn’t turn off and the lights just kept blinking.  It all seemed overwhelming – I don’t know anyone here yet, so much work to do, and all I wanted to do was take a hot shower but we have no hot water (and a warning on the hot water heater not to touch anything if you didn’t know what you were doing or risk explosions).  At this point I began to have serious (serious!) buyer’s remorse.  Why did we buy a place with such a large yard? We should have built new so everything could be how we wanted.

So what did I do?  I dug out the sheets, quilt and pillows I had packed, made the bed (the owner left a bed for us) and curled up in a fetal position.  Two hours later I got up and started making a list of what needed to be done and it really didn’t seem that bad.  (And Robert kept emphasizing how well built the house was, how it was airtight and hence the window issue, etc.)  Most of the things that needed fixing will take time and elbow grease but are nothing major.  Everything’s better after sleep, right?

I hadn’t really slept much in the past three days so went to bed at 9.30 pm and woke up wide awake at 4 am (that’s 10 am in Lusaka, I slept in!).  Boy, the old saying, “everything’s better in the morning” is SO TRUE!  I went on our back deck and the stars put on a spectacular show.  It’s inky black where we are so I could see every star.

Then, the sun began to rise.  OMG – it was gorgeous.  I could see that with 2-3 days work almost all of the weeds could be pulled.  The yard has such potential and the views are great.

The doggies are settling in well.  No wild animals, not even squirrels, but Coco likes to pretend she’s hunting lions in the savannah and run through the meadows.


Posted in Moving Logistics | 9 Comments

Doggies in America

We’ve only been in the U.S. for 10 hours and already Coco’s been to three states (Illinois, Indiana and Michigan).  Yes, both dogs made it to the U.S. healthy and safe, and remarkably calm.  There were a few hiccups, which I guess are to be expected with any trip, especially a complicated international one.

Things went great in Lusaka.  Charles, the KLM representative in charge of dogs, was utterly, wonderfully, awesomely helpful and competent.  When I arrived they sent me to the KLM office (opposite security and check-in) and I filled out paperwork for the dogs.  Due to Dr. Liza’s diligence and experience, I just handed him the stack of papers she gave me, which included a “sanitary clearance” and “international health” certificate, among others.




Then, Charles came out to the curb and went through the checklist (dog appears healthy, crate large enough, water/food dishes available, etc.), attached the paperwork to the crate and labeled the crates “Live Animals” and “This Way Up.”


I had ziplocked and taped food, treats, leash/collar and a note to the tops of the crates (as suggested by doggie travel sites).

Then, we were ready to go through security and check in.  There was a snafu at security checkin; they said Coco had to be in her crate but they didn’t have a cart big enough to hold her crate level, so she was put in tilted.












Then I said my goodbyes, they were taken to “a quiet place by the tarmac” and the next time I saw them (albeit from a distance, through the window at my gate) was in Amsterdam.


Charles was wonderful – he came to the boarding gate and told me they were safely on the airplane and that the pilot knew they were in the hold.  Unfortunately, the plane was delayed about an hour (because the incoming flight arrived late from Amsterdam), so it cut down our layover in Amsterdam, but we arrived in enough time for a 3 hour layover (instead of the planned 4.5 hour layover).

In Amsterdam, no one could tell me if they had arrived safely and no one knew how to contact the doggie hotel.  The airline is supposed to let the dogs out for relief (and I paid $200 each dog for the service) if the layover is 2 hours or more, so I just had to trust that they did that.  I waited by the window by our gate and about an hour before take-off, a huge pallet of dog cages (12-15 crates), was driven to the plane and then lifted and loaded on the plane.  I saw Coco and Buddy’s crates, next to each other, so knew they were on the plane.

We arrived early in Chicago, I was through passport control and out to luggage within 20 minutes (this was a pleasant surprise).  I found a porter right away and we went to where they delivered the “checked baggage live animals” and the dogs never came.  Other dog owners waiting with me said usually the dogs came out first. All my other luggage/boxes came no problem.  After about an hour and a half of waiting our porter went out of customs to talk to the gate agent.  Then we all went out to the transfer desk (past customs but still inside the security zone).  Turns out that all the dogs went to cargo, so they had to figure out which dogs were “baggage” and bring them back from cargo (which was about 15-20 minutes away).

I was feeling pretty irked by this time because these dogs had been locked in their crates from Amsterdam for about 10.5 hours already, on top of the previous 14 hours from Lusaka -> Amsterdam.  And, they wouldn’t let us go back into customs because we and our luggage had already cleared.  Thankfully, “Vlotsky,” my wonderful porter, took my paperwork and went and got our dogs plus the three other dogs delivered to baggage and cleared customs for us.

Meanwhile, my son’s childhood friend (and my good friend Shelley’s son), was waiting outside for me.  Steve and his girlfriend Nina had driven to Chicago in the big conversion van we bought off of his parents to pick us up.  We finally got out to the curb, Buddy used the teeny-tiny doggy facilities (a 12 x 14 foot fenced pen) but Coco refused.  We had to take Coco’s crate apart to fit in the van and then we were on our way for the four hour drive to Lansing.


Unfortunately, because of the delays, we left the airport about 4.50 pm, right in time for rush hour.  For some reason, I thought Chicago O’Hare was south of the city but it’s north of the city, so we had the full pleasure of viewing the Chicago skyline inch-by-inch, at 5-10 mph.  I as worried about Coco, as she hadn’t relieved herself but there was no where to stop or pull off.  Finally, we reached the toll road and eagerly took it, $22.90 be damned!  All of a sudden traffic cleared.  The instant we crossed into Indiana there was a small greenbelt after a toll booth so we stopped and Coco went pee and poo.

We made it to Lansing about 11.30 pm, tired, but healthy, safe and calm.  Since it was so late I decided to stay at a hotel instead of bothering friends and the puppies slept well.

Next stop, Frankfort, Michigan!


Posted in Dogs, Moving Logistics | 19 Comments

Homeward Bound

Well, despite us being in Zambia for another four months (with an extended vacation to the U.S. for me starting Tuesday!), our belongings have begun their journey home.  We’ll see if they really get back in 1.5 months, like they just told us this week instead of the normal 3-4 months, which is what we had anticipated (and why we wanted everything packed up now, so it would definitely be back before winter and by the time we got back permanently).

Here comes the container…

There was a big gash on the side, which I was not happy about.  They assured me it was welded and sealed and wouldn’t leak.  My response, well, I guess we have insurance if anything happens…

The movers here boxed up everything.  Everything!  Every chair, couch, table, etc. was boxed and taped up.  Guess that will prevent damage.  The only thing I didn’t like is that they took apart some tables and bookcases before I discovered what they were doing.  They said the movers on the other side would put everything back together.

Here’s the container ready to be filled.

Coco’s a little alarmed.

Buddy inspected their work.

Finally, after 4.5 hours of loading, they closed and latched the doors.

Then, the attached the lock seal.  I had to verify the number and the fact that it was sealed.  This is the security procedure they use to ensure that the client watches the lock being sealed, and then the client watches it (at the delivery site) being unsealed.  Pretty cool.







The plan is for this container to be driven to the port at Walvis Bay, Namibia, where it will be loaded onto a ship and cross the Atlantic, to be delivered at the Detroit port – a much more direct routing compared to the way it came (i.e., Detroit/Atlantic/Mediterranean/Arabian Peninsula/Dubai/Dar es Salaam/Lusaka).

Now, just a few more errands before the doggies begin their journey home. Prayers appreciated!  I can’t wait to see their wagging tails in Chicago.  🙂

Posted in Moving Logistics | 11 Comments

Doggie Travel from Africa to the U.S.

Now that the movers are packing our boxes, I’ve turned my attention to getting our doggies back to the U.S. safely.  I’ve researched the issue in depth and have come to the conclusion that the most economical as well as safest way is via KLM.  Beginning in May of this year, KLM started Lusaka-Amsterdam direct flights three days a week (before that, the only Lusaka-Europe direct flights were British Air, to London).  Someone I met in obedience class just used KLM and said her dog had a wonderful experience with them and arrived safe and happy.  Here’s the lowdown on bringing dogs back to the U.S. from Lusaka.

It’s best if the animals can fly on the same flight as you (cheaper), otherwise they have to go as cargo which requires you find a shipping agent.

If your dog is small enough (usually 15 lbs or smaller), you can bring them on the plane with you on KLM only (Kenya, South African, and British Air do not allow non-service animals in the cabin).  I thought about doing this with Buddy, but know from experience (when we lived in Italy) that it’s actually quite stressful for them to be hauled around airports, shoved under seats, go through security, etc.  I actually think that it’s less stressful in a nice roomy crate where they’re kept in a quiet, heated place in the hold (and I’m one of those obnoxious travelers who asks to speak to the pilot before taking off to make sure they know there’s a live animal in the hold).  It may be stressful to them not to see you during the layover but layovers I think are more stressful inside the airport with all the people wanting to pet your dog (‘sorry, he bites,’ and then they reach to pet him anyways) and all of the commotion and lack of places to do one’s business.

So, here is information for traveling with your pet in the hold.

Avoid South African Airways or any routings through Johannesburg.  Your dog risks a 6 week quarantine and they are very strict about it.

Our vet suggested Ethiopia Air, but having spent a good portion of my professional work life in Ethiopia and knowing the airport, I wasn’t as confident with their ability to handle dogs for the layover in Addis.  Also, Europeans dote on their dogs and Ethiopians not so much, so I thought the handlers on a European layover would be better for the dogs.

The two safest airlines for international travel for your pet, in my opinion, are KLM and British Air.  The problem with British Air is that they charge cargo rates for all pets (which for our small Westie was over $1000 alone; our large dog would have been about $3600) whereas KLM charges a flat fee of $200 plus a fee of $200 if you have a layover of 2 hours or more, which means the dogs get to go to their doggie hotel (given our flight from Lusaka to Amsterdam is 10.5 hours, I’m glad for once to have a long-ish layover so the dogs could be exercised and have a chance to relieve themselves).  So, for two dogs we’re paying $800, compared to well over that for just one small dog when we used British Air for our flight from the states into Lusaka.  Both British Air and KLM have award-winning doggie hotels so your dogs will be well cared for during a layover in either place.

Now, the problem using British Air and KLM is the Europe-U.S. leg.  If you want the cheapest, smoothest, safest flight for your pets, you’ll need to stick with BA and KLM operated aircraft.  If you have a BA or KLM flight but have to switch to a partner-operated flight, then the hassle factor and cost skyrocket in some cases.  In the case of KLM, Delta has strict rules banning any pet travel from May 15 – September 15 each year.  Also, Delta does NOT do what they call “interline” transfers (i.e., switching airlines), even if it’s their #1, lovey-dovey, super-duper, BFF code sharing partner (like KLM has been for decades).  They require you to contract with a handler, like Zoo Logistics (www.zoologistics.com), which makes your price and length of stay in Europe increase exponentially.  I’m not sure about BA and interline transfers as even though we were on an American Airlines coded flight all the way out here, we traveled on BA-operated flights.  However, I do know that United and Continental (BA’s partners), have very restrictive travel clauses over the summer too, so if you do have to switch from BA-operated to United or Continental-operated, you could have problems.

What this means is you need to check who operates your flight and not go by which airline the flight is coded to. Because of this, I have to fly into Chicago, and not Detroit, because KLM does not operate any aircraft to Detroit.

Here’s a state dept  site giving links for information on international travel by airlines (this site makes it sound like United Airlines and Continental, the ones who connect with British Air, are difficult to work with).

Once you’ve chosen your airline, you have to make sure that the craft they use accepts your crate.  If you’re using a size 500 crate or smaller you’ll be fine.  Some aircraft do not take size 700 crates (the size Coco is in) but KLM and BA do.

If possible, buy your crate in the U.S. on your next trip back and bring it with you as luggage.  It’ll cost you half in the U.S. what it would cost you here.  Further, if you have a large dog, you can’t even get size 700 crates here.  Here’s KLM’s site describing approved airline carriers (hard plastic) with associated required bowls (see this).

In terms of paperwork, various state department, CDC and airline websites say all you’ll need for travel to the U.S. is a health certificate no more than ten days in advance of the trip from your vet (for the airlines), proof of rabies vaccination more than 30 days prior to the flight, and deworming within 5 days of departure.  In the U.S. they also require your pet to be microchipped, which is probably a good idea anyways.   Best I can tell you don’t need any special import papers (beyond the rabies and health certificates) and indeed, this was my experience in bringing Buddy back and forth from the U.S. and Italy (see this and this).

There appears to be a whole raft of paperwork for export from Zambia but if you go to our favorite miracle vet, Dr. Liza Oparaocha at the showgrounds, she has it down to a science and her staff will complete it all for you, she’ll examine your pets and do what needs to be done to them (for our dogs she de-wormed them, gave them Frontline, & micro-chipped Coco [Buddy’s already chipped]), and then a few days later before departure you go back and pick up your documents.

Well, I think that about covers doggie travel from Zambia to the U.S.  Dr. Liza said travel to the U.S. is the easiest, travel to Japan is the most difficult, and Europe is somewhere in between in terms of the hassle factor.  She’s a pet export expert so you can rely on her to steer you right.

Yesterday I prepared the doggie crates for travel.  They have their airline approved bowls for food and water (oh, and Liza said to freeze their water in their dish the night before so they don’t lose it all on take-off) and if you look carefully in the back of Coco’s crate, you’ll see the holes I had to drill (the airline websites state there must be breathing holes on all four sides; fortunately, we have a drill here and after having one of the movers change to bit to the 1/2 inch size I drilled away!).  I’ve labeled their crates in markers and in three days I’ll put treats and their leashes/collars in zip-lock bags and tape them to the top of the crate.  Oh, and I also wrote a little note from each dog to the airline handlers (giving their names and saying they’d like to be placed next to each other on the airplane and in the kennel).  I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief when I see them Wednesday afternoon, in the U.S.

Here’s the pet travel site for Delta.
Here’s the pet travel site for KLM.

Posted in About Zambia, Dogs | 18 Comments