Eastern Zambia

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 forIMG_0788 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.

IMG_0824There 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.

The Chewa: Gule Wamkulu

With thanks to Unesco for permission to use their video – see below for explanation.

gule wamkulu

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!

Unesco says:

‘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.

http://www.unesco.org/archives/multimedia/scripts/iframedjs.php?p=480&f=634

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Source:
The People Chewa: Gule Wamkulu/ Chew Nyan

Magwero School for the Deaf

magwero 4This post is what the fundraising for my young friend Ketty is all about. This is the school which holds our future hopes. Difference between an education, and zero prospects for a young deaf girl who is not understood by anyone in the community except her close relatives.

Magwero school is right on the Zambia – Malawi border, a sprawling collection of buildings at the end of 20 or 30 km of dirt road in a valley that looks suspiciously like Paradise. I mean in a country, a province, where the rains had failed and crops withered, this valley was green, lush, even had a lake!!

Alice asked me to go and check it out when we were having a boys day out in Chipata, the big town of the province, near the Malawi border. She’d already seen it and hoped that somehow she could find a sponsor to pay the fees. Although we just rolled up without any appointment (well…this is Africa), I had a long talk with Nora, the principal and she accepted Ketty on the basis of the hospital records confirming her total deafness.

People from western schools would think the amenities very basic. But things here are different, the kids here want to learn! They know that without education they’re sunk. And most of them are used to sleeping on a mat on the ground and eating basic nutritious food. I love the life here in Zambia, prefer it to Europe (though my old bones would have a problem sleeping on the ground, I’m used to a mattress).

So Ketty will board during term time, but she’ll only be seven by the time she starts and that’s young. So I want to raise enough to pay for at least two trips during each term for Alice to go and visit. Sounds like they do lots of activity stuff though, as well as learning ASL (American sign language), English, and a comprehensive education like children with hearing.

COSTS

These are the current costs. They may go up in  January 2017 when Ketty starts. Which may not affect us. Why? Because the Zambian economy is in a bad way and the Kwacha falls against most other currencies. The fees are set at a meeting between the Principal, and the parents later this year. I’m in regular contact with Nora, vice-Principal, currently acting Principal.

£160                  Tuition fees, accommodation and food (! no there’s no mistake here.)

£55                   ‘Groceries’ – means stuff like toiletries and extras (my estimate)

£370                 Travel has to be taxi, there are no buses as it’s way out in the bush past Chipata. So There and back each of the three terms is 6 x £31. Then Alice has to be able to visit at least twice a term, so another 6 trips. The driver is a friend, so he will keep the price as good as he can for us.

Grand total  = £585 per year

So 12 years = £7020   that’s what we’re aiming for.

If you’d like to donate to help me with fees, please go to the donate page from the menu. Thanks.


Climbing Everest barefoot for charity (not)

climbing Everest barefoot.... not much further
climbing Everest barefoot…. not much further

People doing fundraising often do some challenge. My friend Bryony (who is involved in the charitable website ‘ulingana’ with me) has just run a half marathon. But she’s young! And my knee cartilage (skiing legacy!) will not allow me to run.

I could spend money to raise money (!) by …say….jumping out of an aeroplane dressed only in a furry rabbit suit, or climbing Everest barefoot without oxygen.

But I have a great idea that will actually add money to the fund, and avoid those irritating side effects of such ventures, like broken back or pulmonary oedema.

I WILL EAT VERY simply and live on £20 pounds a week. I will eat like my friends in Zambia do. They live on about a dollar a day. The cost of living here is much higher but I’m vegetarian so should be easy. No going out; I ‘m a recluse anyway, but this also means no going across to the yoga ashram in Wales. No chocolate, no ice cream, no luxuries at all. Basic food, rice, dahl, veg. Fruit if I can afford it. Solidarity with my sisters & brothers!

(I’ve sent out £200 to my friend Musa in Zambia, so his & Ketty’s families can buy enough maize to survive this year as the harvest failed. Again. People living too far out in the bush won’t even get hunger help. Some of them will die of starvation).

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati said to me a year ago that the way to get through the place where I was stuck in my yogic progress, was to go and serve my fellow humans. That’s what I’m trying to do with my life now. And this project arose directly from that. So I appreciate totally that it’s my project and I can’t expect anyone to connect with it in the way I do.

But at the same time, I could really use some help.

If you feel inclined to help, then I, and Alice (Ketty’s mum) thank you from our hearts.

love Tony

ps I have been invited to go and stay in Zambia later this year, so I will be taking Ketty’s first year of school fees as it’s cheaper than doing bank transfers. Also Alice’s first year of taxi charges to get them there (or term if I can’t afford a year) as there are no buses out into the bush!

Tales of a firefly – early days of an artist?

In the same way that a blind person’s sense of hearings is often greatly enhanced, so with Ketty her sense of ‘seeing things’ is much more acute than the average person. The first time we met, we went for IMG_0873a walk through the garden and orchard of the NGO. I loved that everything, we had to stop for a look; an insect,  a leaf, or just a pattern of shadows. I’ve seen this with good photography also… the photo just reproduces ‘what’s there’ but actually a great photo makes you see what’s there either in more detail, or differently, or causes you to process the information differently.

Whether Ketty will choose to become an artist is only written in the future. Pointless to speculate. Alice is keen and helps her daughter to draw and paint as much as she’s able, and I have sent her practical, and inspirational, stuff. What more can you do. Even for normal hearing kids the prospects in Eastern province are limited. For girls? Have children, work in the fields. This is a tribal and very traditional culture. But I suspect that Ketty needs something to enable her to shine, to express herself.

IMG_0955At my leaving party, so much was going on. Noise (which obviously Ketty could not hear), people dancing, walking about. That was my last night before returning to England. Suddenly, a tugging at my sleeve until I saw it. A single firefly painting tracks against the night sky darkness. We watched it until it came over and stopped on the table right in front of us, as if to say, ‘ah, you appreciate my beauty, have a closer look’.

Alice just sent me some pictures. There’s one active email account that they can go and use. Plus my friend Musa has WhatsApp that we use for day to day communication. We get so used to having our laptops, desktops, smartphones. Lots of people in Eastern province have mobiles of course, rarely a smartphone. But every other small business is a roadside place selling airtime. They get charged a fortune by  the network providers for pay as you go. But then I suppose, so do we!

So Ketty is drawing, from a very good ‘how to draw’ book, and also painting using water paints that we got from a Chipata supermarket for Ketty and Musa’s young daughter Martha. She hasn’t started using the acrylics I sent yet, I leave that to Alice’s judgement as to when she’s old enough.june 2016 a

Ketty painting 2