Christmas 2019… where has the year gone?

It’s nearly a year since we last posted! I have to start as I always do by thanking everyone who has donated to the project,   and of course to those of you who make regular donations.

Once again Ketty has proved that her schooling has given an outlet for her bright intelligence by coming top of her class. So it’s all because of you, thanks so much!!

Last year we scraped together enough money to get to the game park. This year we needed a replacement bike; Ketty has outgrown her pink bike that Alice bought for her a few years back (no easy task when you earn a dollar a day!). So we went to Chipata a couple of days ago to see what we could find. Lots of brand shiny new Chinese bikes! Awful quality you can tell just touching them; probably they’ll fall apart within a

old bike, new bike

week. And a gem of a store selling second hand Japanese bikes. There it is… the next pink bicycle, Shimano gears, solid. One satisfied little girl!

Ketty and her mum Alice, along with two other great friends Ennie and Jason, are helping me with Yoga classes here. Most of you know me from our contact at Mandala ashram,  how cool that the influence of Swami Nishchalananda and the ashram he founded is now resonating halfway round the world in this awesome continent that is Africa. We started with some impromptu groups of 6 or 7 enthusiastic people, then the Director asked if I would teach twice a week in the ‘Great Hall’… a space build with sponsor money years ago which is used for large meetings and parties, pre-school kids, silo storage of maize and soybeans, and now Yoga. I’m a trainee teacher (even though I used to teach 50 years ago when I was at uni and a student of my first Yoga teacher, Swami Jyotirmayananda fresh out of Bihar School) so kind of ‘in at the deep end’ as 18 people show up for the first class, most with no English, ages from 10 to 70. It was very different from the  classes we see in the ashram!!! But we held it together, me and my helpers and we’re up and running. We have great hopes for the future.

Ketty has become a girl suddenly, no longer a little child. Well what did I expect. Like almost-teenage everywhere probably, attention span of 30 seconds. All the logic games I bought to help her with maths logic, well they get a few minutes before something else wins her attention. That’ll teach me to get stuck in concepts of what’s going to happen! But soon I see what she and the girls at school are getting up to (with the help of MTV when Zambia Electric graces us with power for the little telly at home). They are practicing their moves.  She has no hearing, but a very cool sense of rhythm and movement. That’s many of my sisters and brothers here… see them and weep, they’re born with rhythm and grace. Here’s a video. Me and Alice and Martha sitting in the back of the kitchen and Ketty decides to put on a show. Amazingly the music, ‘Domoro’, that I dubbed in fits exactly with her timing… Durban House sounds… Gqom it’s called.

 

Happy Christmas Everyone.

Love from Us.

 

Fun and Adventures then back to third year at School

….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.

Ketty at Marula Lodge

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……

nearly the end of a second year at school

Wow time flies. It’s a year since I posted almost. The last post I did was indeed quite dark! They were strange times for us all with the cholera and the drought. The harvest was dreadful as we expected and in two weeks I’ll return to wells running dry because the water table wasn’t replenished during the last rainy season. We’ll see what this year brings but it looks like climate change is happening, and the rainy season comes later and later.

St Francis Hospital

I got ill myself after the previous post and was hospitalised in the little mission hospital nearby. We thought it was malaria; the tests were negative but oh my I was in a bad way. They don’t have nurses to look after you so a family member comes and sits by the bed and attends to any needs. Alice (Ketty’s mum) came, bless her, and dealt with me lying vomiting on the floor and generally being a very sick person! Once I was a bit better I made some more new friends because being the only white guy there, everyone wants to talk to you. Though obviously not while you’re vomiting.

Ketty has had a relatively uneventful year, though our language is not yet good enough for her to share her adventures so I rely on her mum to keep me updated. She goes to visit twice a term and

Ketty at Magwero school with her mum Alice, and Rachel

last time two of my good friends, Rachel and Catherine, went also. Ketty turned 9 a couple of months back. She was 6 when I first met her but she still has the same joy of life. There’s a video below, with the short clip I put in a post last year but some more stuff that gives you an idea of what the NGO, Tiko Lodge, looks like. This is where I first stayed and met Ketty, as her mum Alice runs housekeeping there, and sometimes the kitchen. Ketty has obviously been watching some kung fu movie or something (they have electricity now in the house and a little tv they were given). I guess she’s been watching MTV also, judging by the extravagant gestures as she sings to me from the swing, and in the garden as I’m watering the plants. She is so full of life, what a joy she is to be around.

I’ll tell more when I get over to Zambia, in just over 2 weeks now. This time I fly Kenya Airways via Nairobi, and Alice is excited because she’s coming to Lusaka to meet me off the plane. Cool. Ketty’s still at school so she can’t come but I’ll go and pick her up for the long christmas holiday a few days after I arrive.

 

Not all plain sailing

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.

A first year completed

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.

The star of the show

Signing to Ketty from a lake near the ashram

Hi to everyone again, from my hilltop haven in Wales.

So I told you wrong in the last post. In fact Ketty started her education proper in her second term. The first was cramming sign language, which I guess continues. But she’s started on mathematics and introduction to science and other stuff. They give school reports… the comments remind me of my school reports from about a century ago, like ‘keep up the good work’. Ketty doesn’t need exhortations, she’s loving her school life and works for pleasure.

End of the second term. Ketty sends her love to all of us who have made this possible for her.

Do you remember what I said in the intro to the project, a couple of years ago, Ketty needs to communicate, cos she’s bright, intelligent and has so much to say. About how we could help her get to the school she needed, to fulfil that need to learn and communicate.

Well we’ve done it my friends!! How awesome that it’s turned from a dream into reality. Ketty came top in the class (out of 10 students) in that first term of general education. Woohoo!! Ok even if she’d come bottom, she’d still be great in my eyes, but she came top. Ketty you’re a star.

Second term end report

So I have my ticket booked and in just under three months, I’ll take the long road out to Eastern province once more. Ketty’s getting ready to go back to school on Monday, for her final term of the year; Alice has told her that soon after she returns home after this term, I will arrive. She’s as impatient to see me, as I to see her.

Thanks again everyone. Thanks so much to the people who have donated. Look what we’ve done. We can be proud. We still need donations to build up the fund…. enough said. God bless.

Thanks from Alice, her parents Mr & Mrs Ngwenya, and Ketty.

Love, Tony