A different World

I started this blog as a documentary about my project raising funds for Ketty, my young deaf friend in Eastern Province, Zambia. Truth to tell, Ketty’s fine……

…. she and I have grown closer in a most delightful way. She’s 11 years old now and the path that has unfolded for her appears to be very much one she would have chosen. She loves her school and as I hoped, it’s now an outlet for her intelligence

and ability to learn. I also grow closer to her family. Alice, her mother, is a dear friend, and even I am accepted by Alice’s mother, more of a traditional person where it’s difficult for people outside the tribe to be accepted. It’s an honour.

…. so now, as things groove along nicely, let’s change the tone of this blog a little. I want to start trying to paint a picture of life in this vast world of people who have very little. Vast as in two thirds of the world’s population.

selfie of a selfie

ABOUT TEN PER CENT of the population of the world live in Extreme poverty. That’s defined as less than $1.90 US per day to live on. Now standards come up a bit in the East and Latin America, that leaves the vast majority in Sub-Saharan Africa…..

World Bank, IMF, UN World Poverty statistics.

Most of the people who have become my friends, in Eastern Zambia, live on the equivalent of $0.5 US per day.

That’s one third of extreme poverty rates. Get your head around that. 😂🤣 You have to laugh, otherwise you might just weep with sorrow for the miserable state we’ve allowed our beautiful planet, with it’s myriad beautiful people and cultures and colours and customs and all, to come to.

Ok let’s get positive. We can all work for change. That’s up to you, your choice, don’t accept moral pressure. I’m doing my bit, a little late in life I grant you, but the griping pain in the guts that hit me whenever I heard about poverty and starvation in Africa is a lot better now thanks. THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO!!!!

When I first went out, I hadn’t a clue what I was supposed to do. White people running useless projects for paying volunteers. OMG. There are also many good projects of course… saving lives. But not where I went. Spend time learning culture, customs. As people trusted you more then the way becomes clearer.

That’s the way of it, isn’t it? Relax, let Life show you the way. It always has anyway, you just didn’t see it.

Next post, I’ll tell you a bit more about what’s happening here, how people are living life now the tourists have stopped passing through on the way to the game parks because the world has closed down, everyone’s gone home, gone to bed, turned out the lights….

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.


The People Chewa: Gule Wamkulu/ Chew Nyan