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.

Black Humour

I wrote this story while it was fresh in my mind after hearing it. I was at the NGO in Eastern Province, Zambia, where I stayed for a few months. Sittin’ in the shade from the hot hot sun, drinkin’ tea and sharin’ banter. Isaac and I became good friends and I always loved it when he had time to reminisce. In return he would push me for stories so it was two way traffic. Our senses of humour were pretty similar so I look forward to seeing him again when I go to take the money for Ketty’s first school year. I tell you, there will be a great reunion, a great homecoming, when I meet all those new found friends again, in December. Cool!

These stories were designed as tales of gentle humour….  you’ll find no great plot, with denouement that you’d never have guessed. Just a playing with words in an effort to share some of the love I have for this country, it’s people and their caring culture.  Please enjoy.


Just after Independence…..

Isaac
Isaac

Isaac and I drink tea together as he reminisces. Rhodesia and Nyasaland. That was the name for what became Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. I think if I’d been around at the time, I would have been one of the English who ‘went native’. According to Isaac there were many of them; marry a Zambian woman, blend into the scenery.

But the other mzungus (whites), well, lots of them stayed in positions of authority, effectively operating social apartheid even after Northern Rhodesia was history and Kenneth Kaunda became the first president of Zambia. So Isaac was edged out of the meteorological service in Lusaka despite his knowledge and training. And shunted into the railways. Whence the source of our afternoon stories today.

It seems that social apartheid even applied in the cab of a Zambian Railways steam locomotive. Fairly obvious stuff. Driver… white, fireman…. black. Friendly banter to while away the long journey? No way!

Driver glances at the plume rising from the smokestack, falling like a barometer as the train starts losing power. That’s all. Maybe a raised eyebrow at the fireman if he hasn’t already jumped into action. Not a ‘Hey brother, lets get some coal in the box eh, get some steam up drive this beast a bit faster, what say?’ Nope, just the merest glance serving as a demand for some serious shovelling.

Thus Isaac paints the scenery, the backdrop to our story.

za06_057r__rsz-_9a_117_preserved_kabwe_yard_21-11-2006__pfbThe driver, badly hung over, the usual pack of supplies, food and drink, forgotten in a bleary rush to get to his locomotive on time. Now, the fireman’s ok, got his supplies for the long trip, no problem. Driver sees him swigging from his water bag as he rues the absence of his own, constantly reminded of his thirst by the foetid post-alcohol dryness on his swollen sorry tongue. A signal stops them, driver breaks silence as he brings the train to a halt,

‘Store over there, go get me cigarettes’.

As the fireman goes on the errand, the driver takes a big swig of the other guy’s water. A black man’s water bag, unthinkable to a racist bigot white guy, unless he’s desperate. Fireman returns.

‘No cigarettes’.

So this happens twice more, each time a long draught from the water bag down the driver’s illicitly demanding throat. His tastebuds are so blasted by the previous night’s drinking extravaganza that he doesn’t even realise the fireman’s carrying grade A home-brewed hooch; a cloudy beer with the clout of kerosene. The fireman can handle it; hard work, sweat, familiarised and accomplished liver cells scurrying to the detox party with aplomb. But driver, he’s already on the ropes from last night’s bout with the booze.

Well, people still talk about the locomotive that lurched and staggered into the station that day. Braking with a sodden alcoholic sigh; the last act of an unlikely victim of apartheid just before he surrenders to encroaching coma.

Now to divert down a siding. Into the shunting yard to be precise. Isaac tells me how the more menial task of standing on the ground, to indicate where the coupling is at the start of the trucks to be shunted, falls to an African of course. The driver, reversing the locomotive onto those trucks, maybe early evening as the light’s fading, calls out,

‘Smile dammit, can’t see you until you show your teeth’.


Ah, my friends, I was told when I came here, ‘The people will be kind to you but you’ll always be an outsider to them’.

To which I reply, ‘Are my friendships back in my country some intimate, bonding, soul-secret affairs?’ Sure, some of my friends I love deeply. But I can plunge into new friendships, accepting whatever they have to offer, wherever I may be. Always have. And some people I’ve known for years will always

Musa, Tony, Emelia, Mwasay, Cathy
Musa, Tony, Emelia, Mwasay, Cathy

remain at arm’s length. There are no rules, except that I won’t let anyone try to limit me with their own personal clichés. Ultimately no one is English, or Chewa, or Chinese. Just a human. Get born (did you fill in a form to say where you wanted to get born, before you got popped into a womb somewhere?). Die. And in between those events, live  … we all do the same stuff… look for food, look for shelter, look for happiness, look for a mate, look for meaning. So don’t give me this stuff about ‘you’ll never understand these people’. I’ll never understand ANYbody in a very real sense; we are all unique and very alone, united only by the life-which-sustains-each-and-every-one-of-us. Hardly even understand myself. So now you know the basis, the earth on which I stand, as I go forth to try and relate to my fellow humans.

Which is a long preamble to expressing gratitude to the delightful people I’ve met here. Gratitude for them not subjecting a lone mzungu to a cold-shouldered bitter revenge of reverse apartheid. Gratitude for, on the contrary, warmth, kindness, real affection and nurturing of one who wants only to share his love of life with his sisters and brothers.

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