Tag Archives: people

Widows, water and a walk across the plains!

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In Maasai culture, women are traditionally not permitted to remarry.  Once they are married, they become part of their husbands family and their cattle and possessions belong to him.  Because many times young women (and girls) are married to much older men, it is common for a women to become a widow at a young age, often with several children and her options are few.

Salaton was encouraged by his mother (a  “medicine woman”) to do something about this – to help the widows and to discourage child marriage and female circumcision (or FGM – for female genital mutilation.) His mother, he told me, was a very strong woman, a very wise woman and he knew he had to do as she asked.  He has donated land for a “Widow’s Village” where widows can live together as a family, own their own livestock, build their own houses and make and sell jewellery.

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We were greeted at the entrance to the village by some of the widows, who sang a welcoming song, and then brought us into the middle of the group of houses; into an enclosure where they keep the cows at night.  This is the most important place of all, because the cows are so important.  There, they sang another song and had me and the other girl in our group join in the singing and the dancing.

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We were invited to see the inside of one of the homes – this is a very traditional Maasai house, with a low door and no windows.  Inside was a cook fire and two beds, one for the mother and young children and one for older children and any guests.  In addition, there was a space for the goats and young sheep.

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The women had spread all their wares out on individual shukas and we were invited to look and buy.  Everything was beautifully made.

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There is also a refuge center at the Widow’s Village.  This is for girls who are being forced into marriage or circumcision.  The girls can stay here safely and go to school.  After they have passed their secondary school exams, they are old enough choose their own husband and path in life and they can be reconciled with their families.

“I am not changing our culture,” Salaton told me.  “I am stopping harmful practice.  Many young girls are injured through FGM and some die when giving birth; and the babies die, too.  Far better for young girls to get an education that lasts forever than to be married off in exchange for a few cows that could die in a year.”

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Another project in the works is a conservation plot.  Many trees have been cut down and burned to make charcoal, which is a cheap source of fuel.  However, for the Maasai, many plants and trees have holy or medicinal purposes…not to mention that they hold moisture and keep the soil from eroding.  Salaton has started a small plot with seedlings and Coila is their custodian.  Although he cannot read or write and speaks only Maa, (and some Swahili) he is an expert at caring for the plants.  We helped with the daily watering.

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The next day, we packed for our walk.  Thankfully, we had several strong warriors to carry all the tents, sleeping bags, cookware and food!  It was hot and dry, but walking really gives you a great sense of the land and the surroundings.  We encountered other Maasai walking to get water, or caring for herds of goats or cows.   And we saw many small groups of mud houses…blending in with the land.

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After about 6 hours of walking, Salaton declared that we had reached our campsite.  We collapsed, exhausted, while our warriors pitched the tents, made the fire and prepared afternoon tea.  (Seriously, we had tea and biscuits!)  We saw evidence of elephant, warthog, lion and other animals and heard the sounds of the bush around us.  It was a beautiful evening…and we even got some rain to cool things off later that night.

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In the morning, we heard the distinct sound of a motorcycle…it was someone from the camp, with extra water for cooking and drinking.  I have no idea how he found us!  After breakfast, the warriors packed up and brought all the heavy equipment and supplies back to camp, while we walked on a bit further to a second camp, where we could have a proper shower and enjoy a night right on the plains.  This is a newer camp that also includes a widow’s village, again with land given by Salaton.  We had a delicious dinner and shared a bottle of wine, brought out by Hellen, an extraordinary woman with a hearty laugh who runs the camp, and also the school (which will be described in another post!)  I loved this camp – my little mud house looked right out onto the plains.  It was so peaceful and stunningly beautiful.

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The next morning, I was picked up bright and early to drive into Masa Mara Game Reserve for my SAFARI!

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A week with the Maasai!

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Map of Maasai camp

 

Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp

The Maasai are an ancient people with ancient traditions.  I read an article in the New York Times travel section about the “Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp” and I decided to spend my October break doing something…well, a bit different!

Through the Eyes of the Maasai 

I got into Nairobi on Friday evening and was taken to a small hotel near the airport.  Nairobi is the capital of Kenya and a fairly developed city, with a number of sky-scrapers, a bustling downtown and huge traffic jams.  Tiampati, my Maasai driver, picked me up promptly at 9:00am for the 3 and a half hour drive to the camp, which is outside of Narok and just on the border of the Masa Mara game reserve.  We stopped at a viewpoint along the way at the Great Rift Valley, which extends almost 10,000 kilometers from the Red Sea all the way to Mozambique.

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There were many sight-seers at the rest stop…you could purchase crafts and souvenirs, tea or coffee and take pictures.  Some locals saw their opportunity and approached anyone who looked like a tourist (ie: any white person) to try to sell their wares.  One man kept appearing behind me and saying “Hakuna matata!” while pointing to the shop behind him.  Another man was selling roast corn on a stick (a very common road-side snack)  He would hold it up and shout “Yum yum!  Yum yum!” and was very persistent, even following me as I got into the car.  I politely declined, buying only a cup of tea.

We continued onward through the valley and past tiny towns and wide open spaces.  Cows, goats and sheep were everywhere.  Finally, we reached the town of Narok; a fairly large town by Kenyan standards and the main town for many Maasai.  From here we turned onto a dirt road, which became incredibly bumpy and dusty…we were heading into the Mara.  After about 45 minutes, we turned at a small sign that said “Maji Moto Maasai Camp” and the road became even narrower.  Small groups of mud huts could be seen here and there and there were many flocks of goats and sheep, usually tended by a small boy.  Finally we arrived at the camp and were greeted by a group of Maasai warriors.  They sang and danced for me and I was given a shuka (traditional Maasai shawl)

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The camp consisted of several buildings, all constructed in the traditional manner of mud, ashes, cow dung and timber.  These had been “westernized” in that they had windows, stone floors and a door you could walk through (rather than crawl.)  They were quite cool inside and very comfortable.

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There was a wash-station and a toilet and outdoor shower, which was filled from the hot springs of Maji Moto (which means, literally, “Water Fire”)  Everything was very clean and neat and it really felt like you belonged to the earth.

There were many plants and trees and animals around the camp and you could see the Loita Hills rising above you.  All the food was cooked in the outdoor kitchen on a wood fire and was simple and delicious.
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I walked down to the hot springs with Rose, one of the volunteers at the camp.  There is a large windmill that pumps the water for two communal showers there (one for men, one for women.)  The women come to fill their water barrels – huge plastic containers that they carry with a strap around the forehead back to their village (sometimes several miles away.)  Some people have a donkey or two to carry more water. Clothes-washing is done here as well, and there is a watering hole for the animals a bit downstream where the water is cooler.

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That night, the warriors demonstrated how they traditionally started a fire, using a stick and a piece of tinder.  They twirled the stick in their hands, rubbing it against a flat piece of wood with the tinder underneath and their machete under that.  When the tiny tinder was lit, they would carefully transfer it to a larger clump of dry cedar shavings and then gradually add wood until the fire was blazing.

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That first night, I sat around the fire with four Maasai warriors.  The stars came out one by one and the warriors sang traditional songs.  Most of the songs were a kind of chanting call-and-response and most were about cattle and women.

In the Maasai traditional religion, their god Enkai stretched a long piece of bark from heaven and all the cattle were able to walk down to earth on it.  Enkari gave all the cattle to the Maasai.  A jealous  god broke the bark and so young Maasai warriors often jump as high as they can to try to reach the cattle still up in heaven.  Apparently, high jumpers also attract young women.

The next day, Salaton, the tribal chief who runs the camp and another warrior named Coila, took me on a hike up Loita Hill.  On the way, the two warriors demonstrated spear-throwing.  A Maasai warrior almost always carries a spear.  The narrow end is for practice and the wide end for protection.  After they had thrown their spears at a tree and missed several times in a row, Salaton turned to me and said gravely, “You are not safe!”   He and Coila thought this was very funny.
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Loita Hills once were part of a vast volcanic range and the rock formations are strange and beautiful.

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There were many colorful trees and flowers…even in the hot, dry climate.

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There are over 40 varieties of acacia tree…this one is called a “whistling acacia.”  The hard, black bulb-like things on the tree are made by ants as a nest.  When the ants leave the nest, they make holes in the surface.  And then, when the wind blows, it whistles through the holes.

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On the way back, we came across a young boy looking after the goats.  In Maasai culture, when you meet a child, you touch their head and say “Supa.”  This is a sign of respect.  Most young children will come up to you and lower their head to be touched.

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When we got back down to the camp, I was hot and tired…I looked up to where we had climbed and felt like I had touched the sky.

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Next: Visiting the Widows Village, the Conservation Project, Warrior Training and a two-day trek across the Loita Plains.

Emmanuel Jal – child soldier to hip-hop artist for peace!

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NOTE: Please forgive the horrible picture quality…I had to use my iPhone.  Also – this guy never stood still!  Hence the blurriness!

IMG_0048“Music is powerful. It is the only thing that can speak into your mind, your heart and your soul without your permission.”

Official website of Emmanuel Jal: http://www.emmanuel-jal.webs.com

This week, we were privileged to have Emmanuel Jal as a guest artist at our school.    Jal is a South Sudanese musician and former child soldier. He is a world recognized hip-hop artist and also a humanitarian advocate for social justice and human rights. He broadcasts his message of peace and equality through his music and through various NGOs he has founded.

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Hip-Hop is far from my favourite style of music.  However, the energy in the auditorium when Jal took the stage was electrifying and unmistakably positive.

Using a mixture of singing, rap, spoken word and dance, he told his story and advocated for a more unified, peaceful world, in spite of religious and cultural differences.

His life story was both horrifying and uplifting.   Kidnapped when he was only 8 years old (under the guise of getting an education)  he was trained to be a soldier and to hate Arabs and Muslims…and his goal was to kill as many of them as possible.  (This admission elicited some gasps for our students, many whom are Arab and/or Muslim!)  He told of his lowest point – when some of the children were so hungry that they considered eating the corpses of their dead friends…and of how a crow appeared that he was able to capture for food before he had to resort to that himself.  He talked of poverty and slavery and greedy governments and lack of education…and engaged the students in dialogue about ways to make a better world.

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He lived as a child soldier for more than 5 years and saw many of of friends die from exposure, thirst and starvation.  Finally, he and some other children decided to run away.  Some died in the attempt, but some made it to the town of Waat.  Jal, then 11 years old, met a British aid worker (emma McClure) who adopted him and smuggled him into Kenya, where he was able to attend school for the first time.

Even though McClure died shortly afterward, Jal was aided by some of her friends and completed his education.  Although he had no musical training, he stumbled upon the hip-hop genre and felt that the music had great spiritual and political power.  He started to use his music to tell his story and lobby for political change.

Jal’s biggest passion is for Gua Africa, a charity that he founded.  The nonprofit charity builds schools, provides scholarships for Sudanese war survivors in refugee camps, and sponsors education for children in the most deprived slum areas in Nairobi. The organization’s main mission is to work with individuals, families, and communities that have been affected by war and poverty.  His most recent project is a Global Peace campaign called We Want Peace (and he got all the kids singing and dancing along to the song.) The project is a steady effort to inform the world that peace is a possibility.

Read about Gua Africa here: http://www.gua-africa.org

More about We Want Peace: http://www.we-want-peace.com

He also got the kids up and stage and dancing.

I found Emmanuel Jal’s performance both inspiring and humbling.  Surely, if someone with such a horrific and miserable childhood, brought up in the worst possible conditions, seeing so much bloodshed and misery and sorrow…if someone like that can rise above it to create music, dance and poetry with a message of peace for the world and can work and advocate for education and health care for the world’s poorest inhabitants…then surely we who have been born into privilege, have never really known hunger or thirst or been homeless or mistreated….surely – we can do as much for our fellow residents of the world.

 

 

 

 

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A short trip up to Ndola and the Copperbelt

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Last weekend, I took a trip up to the city of Ndola, which is the third largest city in Zambia and right in the middle of the Copperbelt.  When I told people where I was going, the common reaction was “Why?”

Truth to be told, there is not a lot to do or see in Ndola (or Kitwe, the second largest city, which I also visited!)  But…it was someplace different and it gave me an opportunity to see a bit more of Zambia.

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The flight from Lusaka took about 35 minutes on ProFlight Zambia, a fairly new company that is making a great effort to become Zambia’s premiere airline.  The flight was comfortable, friendly and included snacks and drinks!  I had arranged a ride with the guest house and was picked up in a van by a smiling driver, who took me right to the “Indigo Lodge” in the center of Ndola.

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The next day, I took a walk around the city.  We were in the middle of a heat wave (even for Zambia) and there was little breeze.  I was quickly wilted.  Being Saturday, the city was crowded and noisy with street vendors, traffic, taxi drivers trying to get fares, beggars, and people out shopping, getting money from the ATMs and walking on the sidewalks and in the street.

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One thing about going to a town like Ndola is that, as a white person, there is no way to simply “blend in!”  I was obviously out of place and though nobody was rude, I certainly got some curious looks.  Ndola is not exactly a tourist destination.

I remarked to one of the other guests at the Lodge that Ndola reminded me very much of uptown Harlem…and then I saw this!

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I had it in mind to visit the Copperbelt Museum and so I circled around to the main street and found it.  Although it was not air-conditioned inside, it was much cooler!  I paid my fare (later I realised I had been over-charged; as a resident I should have only had to pay 5 kwacha, not 25!) and went in.

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There were exhibits about the area and examples of tools and instruments made by the indigenous peoples before the mining industry took over.

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I was particularly taken by the exhibit of toys made by local children.  Not having access to modern and fancy toys that children in more developed countries have, the children create their own toys out of wire, fabric, metal and other items.  Some were quite elaborate and detailed.

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Late Saturday afternoon, when things had cooled down a bit, I took a walk in the other direction.
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I was lucky enough to come upon two church choirs, practicing for Sunday service.  One group was standing and practicing a capella, outside in the yard and the second, a Baptist church, was inside with electric organ and drums.  One of the women in the choir saw me standing at the door and went out of her way to welcome me and invite me into the church.  I loved hearing the music and watching the choir directors try to get the best sound from their group.

Catholic Church Choir outside

Baptist Church Choir

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The guest house had its own chef who would cook you anything you liked and the food was excellent.  Saturday evening, I ate a fabulous dinner of marinated strip steak with a creamy pepper sauce, roast potatoes and salad.  There were two other guests there, both engineers who worked for the Zambian government and were surveying the roads.  We had a great conversation and by the time we had had a few drinks, we had solved most of the world’s problems!

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The nest day, I had the idea of taking the bus to Kitwe, about 65 kms up the road. I wanted to go to the huge local market there and see a bit more of the countryside.

Kitwe was hot and dirty and the Sunday market was full of people.  It is a true local market and again, I got some very curious looks.

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After about an hour, I had seen enough, I was hot and tired and hungry!  I bought a couple of bananas and had an ice cream before going to board the bus back to Ndola…only to find that there were no more coaches going back to Ndola that day!

So, I got to take the local bus.

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I made it back in one piece and the guest house manager was preparing a braai with chicken and beef and invited me to join her family.   So, I had a refreshing dip in the pool, a couple of beers and some excellent food before heading to the airport!

Ndola and Kitwe may not be tourist destinations, but they are up-and-coming cities, as is Lusaka.  Zambia is moving forward…2014 will be its 50th anniversary as an independent nation and there are signs everywhere of development, education, health care and improvements.  As the Zambian engineers told me “This is an exciting time for Zambia!”

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Victoria Falls…and a cruise on the Zambezi

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The Victoria Falls are considered one the natural wonders of the world.  And even though I went during “dry season” they were still spectacular.   The pictures I took definitely do not do justice to the magnificence of the falls, the cliffs, the deep gorges cut by the river or the scenery.

When I entered the park, I was asked by a very nice young park ranger if this was my first time at the falls. When I said that it was, he offered to take me around and show me everything.  There was no charge (although I gave him a sizeable tip, because he made my experience so much more informative and fun.)  His name was Francis.

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“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

There was a large statue of David Livingstone near the park entrance.  He was the first European to see the falls and he named them after his queen.

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My first glimpse of the falls took my breath away.  The sight of the silver water, cascading down the mile-high cliff was just…well, “beautiful” seems inadequate.  During the rainy season, all the bare rock you see in these pictures is covered with water, and the falls are one huge wall of water, thundering down and creating a smoke-like mist that can make it difficult to see the falls themselves.  In fact, the local (and official) name for Victoria Falls is “Mosi-oa-Tunya” which means “Thundering Smoke.”

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We could see the bridge that separates Zambia from Zimbabwe.  You can walk across this bridge (you have to go through customs to do so!) and also bungee jump off it!  There were some people bungee-ing when we were there…you could hear them screaming with delight (or fear?) as they bounced down and back.

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After we had taken in the view from several vantage points, Francis asked me if I would like to walk down to the “Boiling Pot.”  This is a place where the water comes rushing in from several directions, creating a churning pool, as if the water were boiling.  He told me that the path down took about 15 minutes, but going back up would take about 25  and that I would be “very tired.”

Of course I said, “Yes!”

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It was a lovely place; shady and cool.  I took off my shoes and socks and soaked my feet in the water.  I would have loved to sit there for the afternoon!

On the way back up (which was tiring, but not a bad climb!) we stopped to rest where a large family of baboons was hanging out under a big tree, playing and chattering in a very human fashion.  There was a mother nursing her baby and after the baby was done, it peeked out over its mothers arms to look at us.

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Back at the top, I realized that I was starving.  I thanked my guide and took off for the refreshment stand.  The only food that they had besides snack-type things like chips or candy were meat pies.  So that’s what I had for lunch…and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a proper British-style pasty, with a wonderfully flaky crust and deliciously spiced beef and potatoes inside.  I devoured it, along with a bottle of fruit punch.

When I got back to my B & B, I took a hot shower and sat in the cool of the gazebo for a while, with a cup of tea.  Then it was time to go on the cruise.  The proprietor had recommended the “cheaper” cruise; he said they served free drinks and you could see much more from the smaller boat!  Four other people from the B & B were also going, so we had a nice group.

It was a wonderful evening.  We were served a huge plate of appetizers, there was an open bar and then we had a braai (charcoal bar-b-que) with chicken and sausage, plus salad, cole slaw and rolls.  We watched the “rich people” boat gliding near us and decided that we definitely got the better deal.  (Apparently that cruise cost almost three times as much and there was no food or drinks included!)

We saw elephant, hippo and some beautiful birds…also more baboons and a warthog who came snuffling down to the edge of the river.  Unfortunately, he was camera shy.

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And as the boat turned around to head back to the dock, we were treated to a Zambian sunset.

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I plan to return to the falls in March, to see it during the rainy season…in all its thundering, smoky glory.

(Oh, and I took a different bus line back!  Much more comfortable and no blaring music – although they did start with a prayer for safe travels.  And given the state of Zambian roads and the way people drive, was not a bad thing!)

Journey to Victoria Falls

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I decided to take a weekend jaunt to Livingstone, to see the famous Victoria Falls. Because we have a half-day on Friday, I could grab an early-afternoon bus from the inter-city bus station in Lusaka and hopefully be in Livingstone by 9:00pm…or 2100, as they say here.

The most reputable bus company is called Mazhandu, but they did not have a bus leaving in the afternoon, so I opted for Shalom bus lines instead. You cannot buy your ticket on-line, as you can in the states; instead, they recommend that you go into the city the day before to purchase. I was unable to do that (I got my car back finally, but that’s another story) but I was able to reserve a seat on the 1400 bus with the promise to pay on the day.

One of the drivers from school took me into the city and boy was I glad he did. The inter-city bus station is an absolute madhouse. As you drive in, representatives from various bus companies try to convince you that you have booked your trip with them and try to direct you to various bus kiosks. Buses are coming and going and backing up into spaces you would never believe a bus could fit. People are milling around with huge baskets of produce on their heads – oranges, pineapples, bananas – trying to sell them to the other people, who are lining up at the various kiosks to buy tickets.

I was the only white person there and I got some curious looks.

I finally got my ticket and found my seat on the bus, which left a little bit after 1400. Except that this was actually the 1300 bus. At any rate, the bus was a modern coach, the seats reclined, there was decent leg room, curtains on the windows to block out the sun and air conditioning. Again, I got some curious (but not unfriendly) looks and one young man called out something about a “mzungu” on the bus and grinned at me as he asked if the air-con was adjusted correctly. I grinned back and told him that I was a very happy mzungu. He laughed.

There was music playing on the bus. Loud music, all throughout the bus speakers. Loud, repetitive contemporary Christian praise music…some in English, some in African dialect. And this was interspersed with preaching. Loud, repetitive preaching.

For the entire trip, which ended up taking 8 hours.

I did see some interesting sites before the sun set. A big, open trailer full of piglets, being towed by a blue mini-van. Several cows and a calf on a similar trailer, looking as mournful as only cows can. Women and children carrying impossibly large loads of firewood on their heads. Thatched, round huts and little paths leading off the road to distant cottages and huts. The ubiquitous AirTel top-up shacks. People sitting right at the edge of the road, selling bags of tomatoes and onions.

And trash. Mountains of trash…plastic bags, plastic bottles, styrofoam containers, bags from chips and candy wrappers. All strewn along the side of the road and in the abutting fields.

I finally arrived in Livingstone, grabbed a cab to my guest house and fell into a very comfortable bed. Today, I visit the falls!

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Signs and gates…walking a different way!

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Walking in Lusaka is always an adventure in and of itself.  Although a huge percentage of the population walks everywhere (when they are not taking the little blue mini-vans!)  there is a decided lack of sidewalks or places to walk next to the road.  Most roads have no shoulders and because of the torrential rains during the wet season, there are ditches for the run-off on either side of the road.  Some of these ditches are lined with concrete or pavers, but more often, they are simply dug out of the dirt.

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Every once in a while, there is some kind of sidewalk.  Sometimes it is merely a dirt path, but sometimes, the owner of the building will create a sidewalk in front of their property as the Anglican Church has.  It is kind of odd to be walking in dirt and ditches and then suddenly have a proper sidewalk for 100 yards or so before going back to the dirt!

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Most of the houses and complexes in my area are walled and gated – that is, they have a gate or a sliding door at the entrance that is opened for residents by a guard.   Some are quite simple, like the one at my flat.

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But others are much more elaborate affairs, with ironwork and scrolling.  Some of the walls have pieces of glass at the top, to prevent anyone from gaining entrance.

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There are security companies that will provide guards for the complexes and some of the “fancier” places and the embassy residences hire a whole slew of them.  Being a gate-guard may seem like a boring job, and perhaps it is…but the unemployment is so high here that the more jobs that can be created, the better.  One guard saw me snapping pictures on my walk and asked if he could pose!

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The signage along the main roads is quite interesting.  Many of the signs are produced locally and lack the uniformity we are so used to seeing at home.  But some look just like any busy corner in any city.

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Lusaka is really in transition and a period of growth…but sometimes the money runs out and people abandon their building project, leaving the skeleton of the house or complex incomplete and taken over by the wild flowers.

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And always, there is a riot of color amongst the trees and flowering hedges.  Even in this dry season.

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A walk through an “unplanned settlement” in Kabulonga

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Today I took a long walk…not towards the city, but the other way, into what is called an “unplanned settlement.”  These settlements are areas that have sprung up over the past 40 or 50 years, as people build houses and other structures on vacant or unclaimed land.  The Kabulonga Dam (also called the Kalikiliki Dam) was built across a stream in a marshy area in the 1960s by the owner of the plot.  After several people drowned in the resulting lake, hostility towards the owner (a white man) caused him to give the plot and dam to someone else, who later died. Because the dam is on private land, it has not been maintained since 1990. The current condition of the dam is hazardous. According to Lusaka City Council Engineering Department, seepage has been detected at the base over the past few years and it is in danger of collapsing. The dam wallhas also been heavily eroded as people have built right into it; they have even used soil from the dam wall for construction purposes. The current structure of the wall would not withstand strong currents were the dam to be allowed to fill up.

You can read more about the dam, the settlements and what the government is (and is not) doing about it in this study done in 2007.  CLICK HERE.

I took a right out of my driveway and walked down Sable road.  I crossed the (unnamed) paved road at the end of the street and walked onto the dirt extension of Sable road.  There was a lot of new construction; big houses with yards and carports.  Lusaka is expanding.  I got some curious looks, but mostly smiles and “hellos.”  Then I turned onto the road going towards the dam.  There was a school, with a colorful sign and a group of boys playing soccer with a tattered ball.
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Although the dam shows up like a blue lake on the map view, in reality it is a marshy area, with piles of trash on either side and houses crowed along the edge.  One of the larger piles of trash was burning, and there were people picking through the smokey rubble.  Where the “lake” would be in the rainy season, someone had planted a large garden, with what looked like cabbages and other greens.
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As I walked further into the settlement, the looks became more curious.  Several times I was asked “Where you going, Madam?”  Apparently the answer “Just taking a walk” was very odd, especially for a white woman dressed in hiking shoes and shorts, carrying two bottles of water in a waist pack and wearing a floppy LLBean sunhat.  I am sure I looked ridiculous.    There were houses crowded in together on the side of the “dam” and little stores – there was even a bar. Lots of grinning children ran up to me, saying “Hi!  Hi! How are you?” and then running away again.  Some of them let me take their picture.  I was apparently quite a curiosity.

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There was trash and rubbish everywhere.  Plastic bottles, tin cans, styrofoam packaging from food, milk cartons.  All just lying in piles or on the road.  There is no trash pick-up, no place to put the refuse of the fancy packaging from the first world.  Plastic cannot be composted or burned.  People pick through it and sometimes make things…I complemented a little boy who had created a credible truck out of a couple of old milk-cartons and another boy, later on, who had constructed a vehicle out of a wire frame.  But the settlement is basically on top of a garbage dump…and there is no way to get rid of the mountains of trash.  And yet…colorful flowers still seem to grow…

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And then, I took a turn towards town and suddenly I was on a wide paved road with a sidewalk…a rarity outside of the main part of the city.  I made my way towards home, and the sign for the “luxury housing” so close to the settlement I had just come from seemed incongruous.  I stopped at the little stand on corner of the dirt road where I had started my walk and bought some fresh tomatoes, eggs and roasted peanuts.

CLICK HERE to see a map of where I walked!

Scenes from the road

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One of the interesting things about Lusaka is that you are literally right at the edge of the bush.  Unlike other capital cities, which gradually get less crowded and more suburban as you drive away, Lusaka goes from congested, crowded city to sparsely populated landscape in a matter of minutes.  There are very few paved roads and even the new “main road” I took out of the city was basically a strip of asphalt with occasional speed bumps to slow traffic down when you reached a small group of “stores” on the side of the road.  These stores were usually home-made affairs, sometimes a simple lean-to made of branches to sell tomatoes or corn, sometimes a bit more elaborate building with white-washed sides and hand-painted signs.  And even in the most remote stretches of road, there were little shacks where you could purchase “top-up” cards for AirTel or another Zambian cell phone service.

I turned off the main road about 20 km from Lusaka (thinking I would find the Blue Lagoon Park…) and drove for another 10 or 15 km on a dirt road.  Here and there were turn-offs with sign for a school or a church.  And there were groups of houses – huts, really – every few kilometers, always with bagged coal at the edge of the road to sell and sometimes with a stand for vegetables.  People lived here.  Most walked everywhere, although the blue and white vans which serve as public transport were in evidence here, too.   No electricity, no running water that I could see.  Most kept goats or chickens and I also saw cattle and oxen.  I assume everyone had a garden plot and the kids went to one of the schools along the road.

Everyone was friendly.  Everyone waved  and smiled at the white lady in the small silver car, slowing down to take a picture.

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My Zambian driving adventure…um…mishap.

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Today’s post was going to be all about how I drove to the Blue Lagoon National Park and saw awesome wildlife and birds and various flora and so on and so forth.

I set out around 9:00am planning to drive through the city and out west to this new game park that looked to be about 60 miles away on a decent road.   I was armed with a road atlas, plenty of water, snacks and a camera.  I navigated the city roads fairly well, choosing a route that took me around the busiest sections and carefully negotiating the rotary.  I drove out on the new (ie: paved) Mumbwa-Mongu road, following the directions I found on the “Best of Zambia” website and taking time to look around.  I turned at the sign to Nampundwe Konkola Coppermine, and began to look for the “Blue Lagoon” sign on the left which was supposed to come up in “several” kilometers.

Well, I never found it!  Either the directions were wrong, or the sign has gone missing…but I ended up driving all the way to the Coppermine!  I took a few pictures and turned back, passing a number of rustic huts, carts pulled by oxen and numerous goats along the side of the road.

When I finally got back to the city, I was congratulating myself on almost four hours of flawless driving.  I made a turn on what I thought was the road back, but it wasn’t.  I got a bit turned around, pulled over and checked the map.  Seems I was one road off.  So I cut over to what I THOUGHT (again) was the road towards home…Burma Road.

But it wasn’t.  It was Independence Highway.  A divided highway.  A detail I failed to notice (in spite of a car beeping behind me) until I had made the right turn into the left lane and saw the oncoming traffic.

There was nowhere to go.  I couldn’t get off to the side; there was a big ditch.  I couldn’t back up, there were cars coming across the lane.  The oncoming car beeped and braked and pulled to the right and for a brief moment I thought we might escape with a mere bump.  But…it was a bit more than that.  His front left headlight was smashed and my bumper was dashed in (and the radiator punctured.)

To make matters worse, the car that hit me was some kind of “classic” model car.   (Why couldn’t it have been another little Toyota?  On the other hand, it could have been a truck and I wouldn’t be typing this now!)  And the driver was hopping mad, especially when he saw that I was (obviously) not a Zambian.  He swore at me and threatened me and told me that I would have to buy the car right now!  I was fairly speechless, which was a good thing, and another gentleman who lived down the road stopped and got out of his car to help me and calm down the other driver.  A crowd gathered, the ubiquitous guards hovered around and people who were walking by all came up to peer at the damage and shake their heads.   The police were called and the officer who arrived was extremely professional and kind.  He drove me to the police station (after filling my radiator with enough water to get it there!) and I had to fill out a form that described the accident and pay a fee, since I was at fault.  I called my school and Martina (who handles housing and security) was wonderful – told me exactly what to do and not to do.  She said the school will help out getting the car towed from the Police Station to a garage and will bring the insurance papers down to the station.  The other driver had calmed down a bit (apparently he is some kind of well-known businessman) when he realized that I did have auto insurance and that I wasn’t going to be hopping on the next plane back to the states.  I also think he was scared at the time – he told me that if his brakes hadn’t worked as well as they did, I might be dead.  (And he was right.)

My head of school called me to make sure I was okay.  He said that while there have been more than a few car crashes involving staff, he thought I might be the first to do it before school even started.  A dubious honor.

So…I am okay.  My car has some minor damage which is going to be a headache for a little while.  But it could have been so much worse.  So much worse.  And hopefully the insurance will be able to procure the proper parts for the other driver’s classic car.

Pictures of wildlife next time.  I promise!IMG_0989