Now I’m in a quarantine hotel for 10 days. They keep you in confinement with no human contact. No problems, I’ve got lots of work to do and anyway, Wimbledon’s on the telly.Continue reading “may you live in interesting times”
….this is Africa. It smells like Africa, it feels like only sub-saharan Africa can feel, it gets in your blood, under your skin, just like they say. Either that or it freaks you out, the poverty, the utterly different culture, the snakes, the spiders, the malaria, and you never come back.
I haven’t posted since I’ve been here in Zambia; seems time has just flown by on this trip.
We picked up Ketty from end-of-term school soon after I arrived. She’d come first in class for the year, her second at Magwero. I wish I could adequately describe… to those of you who have donated to her fund, how you have changed the life of this little girl. Please be proud of your part in her story!
It’s hard to tell what life is like here unless you’re actually here; it’s so different to life in the West. Some of my friends have been to India, there are similarities, but this is Africa. It smells like Africa, it feels like only sub-saharan Africa can feel, it gets in your blood, under your skin, just as they say. Either that or it freaks you out, the poverty, the utterly different culture, the snakes, the spiders, the malaria, and you never come back.
Even just walking back from Alice & Ketty’s home on the compound, this is not my territory; people sometimes stare at you because it’s strange for them to see a white guy on the compound, or they might say ‘where are you going?’ But I’ve persisted year after year so now it’s equally common to hear shouts of ‘hey Tony!’ and I feel I have started to be accepted.
So a great stroke of luck; I wrote to a couple of game park lodges asking if they’d give us a cheap deal. The lodges are for rich white people coming to see the game parks with prices correspondingly way out of reach for Zambians in this low income area. By low income I mean a dollar a day. One game drive of 4 hours costs 46 dollars i.e. 6 weeks wages and that’s if you didn’t spend money on food in that time. Anyway Jenny from Marula Lodge wrote straight back saying she loved people who tried to help a bit, and appreciated what we were doing for Ketty, and she gave Ketty and Alice free(!) game drives and all of us greatly reduced accommodation charge. So off we went to South Luangwa game park… one of the finest in Africa.
We had such a great time. Check out the video at the end of this post, and the gallery below, for some pictures. Ketty had everyone, from kitchen staff to the director Jenny, wrapped around her little finger. She has a magnetic personality and an infectious laugh. So little miss popular got an invite from Jenny to return for longer so they could go to the local village, Mfuwe, to work with deaf kids there.
I just have to do a plug for Marula Lodge, to anyone who’s thinking of going on Safari to Africa. Unlike some NGOs I see here, and some of the other Safari Lodges, Jenny treats her Zambian staff like fellow human beings, and Marula is based on love and trust between employer and employees. Lovely. Jenny goes down to the local school in Mfuwe and helps the kids with books for learning; she’s establishing a library apart from other acts of generosity.
As well as safari, Ketty and I spent a lot of time in the pool; it was the first time Ketty had ever seen, let alone been in, a swimming pool and at first she thought we were there to bathe or wash clothes. I nearly got her swimming by the end…. nearly. Hours before we left A delightful Californian family arrived, one of whom was a swimming instructress! Timing. But generous people, they insisted on buying us lunch before we left.
We got a ride to the bottom of Mount Mphangwe the weekend before Ketty returned to school… I made a huge Spanish omelette for our breakfast on the top. Alice is heavily pregnant and we had to strongly persuade her not to climb the mountain but get a lift to the top via a service road for the phone masts up there.
So that’s it, I’ll go and see Ketty once more at school, on her Saturday day-off, before I return to the severe climate shock that awaits me on my return from African summer to British winter!!
Thanks again to you all; at the end of this little video Alice thanks everyone personally but it wasn’t until I edited the movie that I realised the wind blowing across the microphone obscured all sound. Anyway…enjoy this short clip……
Life here can be hard.
This post is an eye-opener for anyone who doubts that life is tough here.
We have Cholera in the area. Spread from the slums of Lusaka where the pollution of wells (main supply of drinking water) by nearby pit latrines (holes in the ground) has had inevitable consequences.
The schools will not start again on the 15th because of Cholera. There will be a review on Jan. 30th.
It’s almost lucky (!!!???) that the rains appear to be failing again for the second time in three years in Eastern Province, as Cholera is a waterborne disease and the compounds become flooded when the rains are good. At least The ridiculous Potato-head President of the United States assures us that global warning is not a problem.
The crops will probably fail; it’s too early to say yet. The government is supposed to support the population by giving food aid. They probably won’t as they have huge debt to pay.
Ketty had Malaria. An inevitable consequence of living here even if you have a mosquito net. You just get ill for a while, sometimes very ill. You feel dreadful. Then her grandmother had malaria straight after her, Then her mother. They’re all recovering or have recovered. It’s the annual competition for survival; will it be a mild illness this year or severe, even life-threatening?
Most of my friends here work for an NGO as ‘volunteers’ which means that they’re not covered by Zambian minimum wage. They get paid less than a dollar a day. They work up to 9 hour days but there are no other jobs in the area.
One positive note; I was invited by the Chief of this area to go to New year celebrations at his Palace. I was treated as an honoured guest and sat with him as The Nyau dancers (a secretive male sect) performed the ritual dance of ‘Gule Wamkulu’ accompanied by shouted vocals answered by singing from the girls of the community, and drumming to get deep under your skin. Awesome, powerful.
Happy new year to everyone.
We went to pick up Ketty a week ago for the long summer holiday at the end of her first year at Magwero School for the Deaf. She was so happy to see us; myself she hadn’t seen since last February just after she’d started at the school.
I’m struck by how young she still is, but she has a confidence about her and she’s clearly a popular kid with her school mates. Amazing to see such a different culture; instead of the shouted ‘goodbyes’ of the kids when a typical boarding school breaks up, there’s mostly silence with a goodly amount of sign language as the kids say their farewells.
Ketty and I have resumed our easy friendship and she’s over pretty much every day to the NGO where I’m staying, and where her mother Alice works. Alice is a good friend of mine as are many of the others who work here, so it’s a real pleasure to see everyone again, work with them, share lunchtimes.
Ketty and her friend Eva have been helping me as I work in the garden, they’re more adept with the traditional hoe, used for cultivating the land, than I am. So they prepared one of the beds between them, also they help me water on the days when the rains don’t come.
I’m also working in maintenance here; there’s a lot of buildings and so a lot of upkeep. I’m teaching the guy who is maintenance head, Jason, some of my fine carpentry skills and Ketty likes nothing more than to get a hammer, and a bag of nails I bought for her, and …er…. nail things! If it moves, nail it.
So once again (I never tire of saying this) thanks so much to everyone who has helped us make this possible. Your donations are slowly giving us the security we need from year to year to pay those school fees but also the taxi fares for Alice to visit which is so important. She was with Alice every day since her birth until her first day at school a year ago, and I’m amazed at how resilient this little 8 year old girl is; to be on her own except for two visits each term from her mum. Also we are helping Alice to buy the stuff she needs for school, equipment, clothes, shoes and little treats for when she feels a bit homesick. Zikomo Qambiri! Thanks very much. Please feel happy at what you have helped us achieve, and continue to achieve.
Finally, we shot this video yesterday just on my camera phone. Ketty had seen some people at the catholic church playing guitar and singing, she was in a crazy mood anyway and put together this little performance for us …. watch the eyes! She’s a natural actress and mime artist and though she has no spoken language (because of her deafness being from birth), she has her own exuberant vocals going on most of the time.
This part of Africa is one of the poorest parts of the world. People cook outside, with firewood, which is one of the indices of poverty. Village life can appear an idyll. The climate is beautiful, social relationships are mostly co-operative and people have time to talk, to enjoy simple pleasures. Such lifestyle can appeal to some of us in the ‘first world’ as a simplicity that we’ve lost, to our detriment.
But there are downsides. In the villages, there is no economy as such. Agriculture is the way of life for all who live in a village; it’s the only way to get food to eat. There are no businesses, no offices, no factories. Just bush. Having said that, where other work is available, perhaps in an NGO or one of the many struggling one-man businesses, then people have to get to work by either walking (often for hours) or if you’re lucky and have a bike, on two wheels. The Great East Road is the main route through the area going from Lusaka to Malawi. Always there are people walking on the sides of that road. Village to market or back, going for firewood or charcoal, going for water, kids walking for miles to or from school. Nearer the towns there’s the bicycle taxis if you can afford one. A network of unmapped dirt roads leads maze-like to villages; further into the bush just tracks and remote villages that only the residents know how to get to, or of course the Peace Corps boys and girls who manage to find their way into them, following their missions whatever they may be.
In the towns life is a little different as there are markets for pretty much everything you need. And bars which can turn a place into a no go area at night especially for women or europeans. It’s possible to see a few sprawling colonial style bungalows with walled garden and iron gates on the outskirts of towns and there’s a kind of transition zone between town and country where a network of dirt roads and tracks weave between two roomed houses with tin roofs which are fairly cheap to build, and there isn’t a definite village identity. Chipata is a larger town on the border of Malawi with supermarkets, and more definite industry and you see the signs of more wealth there.
Education is a tricky one. Theoretically available to most children, in reality you have to pay for tuition at certain stages, and for uniforms. And you have to find a school you can get to. Many kids walk miles and miles each way. For Children living in villages right out in the bush, education is not possible unless you’re lucky enough to be in range of a privately built philanthropic project such as that built by Chief Mbang’ombe in Kapeya area. Higher education for a village dweller is pretty unlikely.
There are some NGOs out there trying to make a difference to agriculture methods and encouraging entrepreneurship. When you see the government agencies and advisors coming in and promoting use of inorganic fertilisers, you start to give up hope. The region grows maize as a carb staple which is fine when the rainy season behaves, but as the climate changes and weather patterns seem to be more unpredictable, we’ve seen crop failure on a catastrophic scale. It’s tragic to see a huge field of maize, planted and cared for by the whole local community, with shrivelled cobs not even fit for animal feed.
And if you’re a rich European, you’re totally unaware of all this as you enjoy the luxurious surroundings of a safari lodge just a relatively short hop northwards in the Luangwa game reserves. You don’t need to see anything of the true life of a village person in Zambia, any more than they will ever see any of the money you’re theoretically putting into the Zambian economy.
With thanks to Unesco for permission to use their video – see below for explanation.
I went to Gule Wamkulu in a village in Eastern Province, with the director of the NGO where I was staying. She and I were the only muzungus (white people) there so it was very personal; arranged for us by a local Chief and village Headman. It took place at night, with just the fire, used to warm the skins of the drums, to show the amazing costumes on the different figures as they danced in and out of that firelight. Magical, especially with the relentless drumming and singing of the girls. Not like the nice choral singing I heard in the schools and stuff, much more from the earth, from nature. You must not talk to the guys before or after as traditionally it is not them dancing, but ghosts, hence sometimes translated as ‘ghost dance’. Afterwards, the atmosphere was raw earth energy; I saw the mothers making haste to hustle their daughters away quickly!
‘Gule Wamkulu was a secret cult, involving a ritual dance, practiced among the Chewa in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It was performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, a secret society of initiated men.Within the Chewa’s traditional matrilineal society, where married men played a rather marginal role, the Nyau offered a means to establish a counterweight and solidarity among men of various villages. Nyau members still are responsible for the initiation of young men into adulthood, and for the performance of the Gule Wamkulu at the end of the initiation procedure, celebrating the young men’s integration into adult society.’
This video was made in Malawi. The Chewa people are mostly across Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. Click on the link below for the video, or below that for the Unesco source.