Tag Archives: School

ISSEA Band Festival in Zimbabwe!

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“ISSEA” stands for “International Schools of Southern and Eastern Africa” and they are responsible for coordinating and organising events for the various International Schools.  Previously, all the events were sporting activities – soccer, basketball, volleyball and etc…but this year, for the first time, there was a “cultural” event.  A concert band festival.

Never mind that half the schools involved don’t even HAVE bands, or that it would have been MUCH easier to start with choir or even drama.  The committee that met last year decided that starting with band would be much more spectacular and draw more of a crowd.  So, all the member schools had to scramble around to find “band members.”  Even if they didn’t have a band.

We had exactly two kids in the high school who could play an instrument and were willing to put in the practice time necessary.  Here they are!

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They joined with 70+ kids from seven different schools and more than 50 different countries to create the first-ever ISSEA Band.  And to be fair, the end result really was spectacular.

The kids were all housed with host families…and the accompanying teachers were put up at a very nice place call the Bronte Garden Hotel.  I was impressed.  The rooms were comfortable and spacious and the grounds were lovely, with a wonderful collection of Shona sculpture throughout.  Zimbabwe is known for its fine stone and many local artists create works made from it.

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There was also a restaurant and bar with excellent food and great service and a lovely pool.  It was really nice to meet up with other band/music teachers.  Next year, there will also be a drama and art festival and some of those teachers were also there to help plan the 2015 events.

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The first day, we all gathered at the Harare International School’s performing arts centre.  We got the kids situated  and (sort of) tuned and launched into the first piece.

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It was dreadful.  We wondered what we had done…had we expected too much?  Should we cut some of the selections?  Shorten some of the pieces? However, by the end of the day –  after sectionals and some rigorous rehearsal…the cacophony had started to sound like a band.  We were very fortunate in having section leaders who knew their instrument and also knew how to teach it.

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The next day, kids could take workshops from some local musicians.  They included mbira (also called kalimba – a “thumb piano”) marimba,  jazz improv and drumming.

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There were also some impromptu performances by the locals.

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There were seven selections for the concert and each music teacher had the opportunity to conduct one of them.  Here I am, rehearsing “Invocation and African Dance.”  I had a great time – I haven’t conducted a band since I left ACS in England!

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By the time Saturday night rolled around, the band was ready!  Everyone wore their ISSEA Band t-shirts (complete with the  host school “Warthog” mascot on the front playing a variety of instruments) and the superintendent made a lovely speech.  Our concert was very well-received and everyone had good reason to be proud.

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There was supposed to be a live feed of the concert, but as is typical for Africa, the internet connect went out.  At some point, the entire concert is supposed to be uploaded to Facebook and when they finally work out the glitches, I will share it.  However, a video will not convey the fun, excitement and sense of accomplishment that was palpable in the room.

Meanwhile, here is a slide show put together by the media team!

There will be another Band Festival next year (probably in Johannesburg) and we are also adding Choir.  It should be a blast!

Christmastime in Zambia…no snow, but plenty of cheer!

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Christmas was “invented” (if you will) in the northern hemisphere.  The long, cold, dark nights of December cried out for light.  The pagans already celebrated the winter Solstice with great gusto (fires, candles, dancing, feasting and general revelry) and so, knowing a good thing when he saw it,  after the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the empire’s favored religion, he then decided that December 25 made a great day to celebrate the birth of Christ. 

And so we who live north of the equator tend to associate Christmas with cold and snow and candles and evergreen trees.  We have Christmas songs about “in the bleak mid-winter” and Santa’s sleigh in the the snow and dashing through the snow and “White Christmas.”

When Christianity moved south, so did the holidays associated with it.  And, as incongruous as it may be, so did the traditions.  Even though it is the height of summer here, people put up evergreen trees, hang lights, Santa arrives dressed in boots and furs, there are reindeer sleighs and songs about a “White Christmas.”  Never mind that most Zambians have never seen a single snowflake or experienced temperatures much below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Christmas is irrevocably linked to the winter. 

So, the decorations go up at the malls.

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There was even a huge tree made out of green plastic bottles – a joint effort by several companies to encourage recycling.

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And the InterContinental Hotel put out a call for carolers.  I brought my 6th, 7th and 8th graders (on three separate days) to sing “Jingle Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman” and “Silent Night” in the lobby.  We had a great time.

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Our singing was well received….even though they didn’t give us any Christmas cookies or punch, as is supposed to be traditional for carollers!

And now…I am on my way to the airport and in 24 hours, will touch down at JFK – where I hear there is actually some snow and the temperatures are decidedly frosty. 

I’m looking forward to it!

United Nations Day

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October 24 is “United Nations Day” and we, as an international school, were of course bound to celebrate it!  (Pictures by Heather PIllar…click to enlarge! )

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I have celebrated UN Day before, both in the USA and at my UK school…but it has never felt like this.  Our school has students from 53 different countries.  For UN day, everyone – from the 2-year-old “play school” students to the 18+ year old seniors, gathered in the gym.  Everyone was seated by country.  Many students were dressed in traditional dress from their country or had their faces painted in the colors of their flag.  Some of the elementary students had hand-made flags to wave; some had painted their faces.

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There was a parade of countries, similar to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.  Selected students carried their country’s flag and everyone cheered as they walked into the gym.

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Finally, it was time for Zambia, our host country.  There was a huge cheer…and my little “orchestra” was ready.  We played the Zambian National Anthem as everyone sang with great gusto!  (That’s me on the clarinet.) The rest of the “orchestra” consists of a trombone, a violin, a snare drum, a rhythm  guitar and another clarinet. Hey, it’s a start!  We also had a vocalist.

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The student council president spoke, and there was some traditional Zambian drumming and dancing!

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We also had a surprise visit from the AISL mascot (a leopard!) as we prepared to host the upcoming ISSEA Volleyball Tournament.

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We left the gym to partake of a feast – an “international food festival.”  I have to say that the parents oputdid themselves…I have never seen so much food!  Each table was labeled with the country or area and there was plenty for all!

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It was a great way to start our October break!  I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work at this school!

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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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An incredible visit to the Chimfunshi wildlife refuge.

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The Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in central Zambia is a non-profit refuge that cares for a wide variety of sick, wounded or unwanted animals — but the primary residents are over 100 orphaned chimpanzees.  Last week, I was privileged to chaperone the 9th grade field trip to this unique and fascinating place…and to learn about chimpanzees – our closest cousins on the evolutionary tree, with more than 99% of our genetic make-up in common.

NOTE: With the exception of the photos of the school, these wonderful pictures were taken by my colleague, Heather PIllar, a professional photographer.

From their website: Chimfunshi was founded in 1983 when a game ranger brought a badly wounded infant chimpanzee to the cattle ranch of David and Sheila Siddle, a British couple who had lived in along the Zambian Copperbelt since the 1950s. The Siddles nursed that chimp – nicknamed “Pal” – back to health, thereby establishing a tradition of care and respect that forms the legacy of the sanctuary.  Once word of Pal’s recovery spread, the Siddles found themselves inundated with orphaned chimpanzees. Although many are confiscated from poachers who attempt to smuggle the infants into Zambia for sale as pets, an equally large number are rescued from dilapidated zoos and circuses from all over Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.  The Siddles bestow love and care upon the traumatized apes and gradually introduce them to the extended family at Chimfunshi. Five social groups inhabit the free-range enclosures that span 1,100 acres at the orphanage, including three 500-acre enclosures, the largest area ever set aside for captive primates.

More about Chimfunshi here: http://www.chimfunshi.org.za/  (And worth a read…)

After a long bus ride, we arrived at the main camp and got unpacked.  The camp is situated out in the bush; there are a number of rustic cabins, a central pavillion, a kitchen and a meeting room.  All electricity is provided by solar power and any kind of Wifi is non-existent.  We were given a introduction by one of the staff members and saw a video about the rescue of “Toto,” one of the chimps now at the orphanage.

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The next day, we walked to the enclosures…about 4 km down a dirt road. DSC02958 DSC02959 DSC02964

The enclosures are the “second stage” of the sanctuary.  Here are chimps that have been successfully integrated into family groups and live fairly independently in enclosures about 10 – 15 acres in size.  They are not ready yet to be released into the huge, 500 acre enclosures as wild chimps, but except for feeding time, they are pretty much left alone.  The staff never go into the enclosures and the chimps only come to the borders for meals.  This is so that the staff can ensure that the chimps are eating enough and monitor them.  We also got to watch them being fed…they eat vegetables and fruits and they love nshima (a kind of cornmeal paste.)  They will negotiate with each other for food and steal it from other chimps who aren’t paying attention.  But they can also be generous and will share with a youngster or a chimp who is their friend.

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Each student was assigned a chimp to observe every 30 seconds for one hour.  They had codes to record various behaviors.  Sometimes the chimps would be very active – grooming, vocalizing, interacting with other chimps, climbing a tree, throwing rocks, cuddling their babies and sometimes behaving aggressively, including loud hoots and shrieks.  But some of them simply seemed to like the easy life and spent a good portion of the observation time relaxing. (Much to the disappointment of their observer!)

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The next day, we visited the Orphanage.  This is where animals are taken when they first come to Chimfunshi.  Many times, they have been so badly treated that it is impossible to move them to the larger enclosures…but the staff still strives to give them as natural an environment as possible.  “Toto,” the chimp in the video who was rescued from a circus in Chile was there.  He had been captured at age 2, along with 3 other baby chimps.  (Also, sometimes 10 – 12 adult chimps will die trying to protect a baby chimp.)  The other baby chimps died on their way to Chile and Toto was kept for more than 20 years in a crate about a meter wide, taught to smoke and drink and wear clothes.  He was castrated, chained by the neck and had most of his teeth pulled out.  When, he finally arrived at Chimfunshi (thanks to many people from many countries) he had not seen another chimpanzee for almost 25 years.

When he finally was let out of quarantine, he was cautiously introduced to a little 5 year old orphan chimp named “Madonna.”  He approached her carefully, and then reached out his long arms and enfolded her in an embrace.  He paid no more attention to the humans, but focused all his attention on his companion – able to be with one of his own kind at last.  (Go on, watch the video!  It is quite moving.)

Video about Toto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqiEqUlB7V4

A website about his remarkable rescue: http://www.savetheprimates.org/happyendings/stories/saved-toto-the-chimpanzee

He’s an old man now…almost 37 years old, but he could live for another 20 years.  And although he cannot be released into the larger enclosures, due to his age, infirmities and the fact that he was castrated, he has bonded with several other chimps in a “family” and he is respected by them because of his age.

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We also met Sheila Siddle, the co-founder of Chimfunshi.  (Her husband David died a number of years ago, and she has carried on with the work.)  She was fostering a baby chimp whose mother had rejected her.  The baby is 4 months old.

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Chimfunshi also sponsors a school for the families who live in and around the area.  This is a one-room school house, for kids ages 5 – 11.  There are about 40 kids in the classroom…this is how it looks empty.

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Our kids came and introduced themselves to the students and even though all the students spoke Bemba and all our kids (except one) did not, they seemed to have a good time playing together.

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That evening, we were supposed to watch “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes” but something went wrong with the DVD player…so some of our kids acted out the movie for us…it was hilarious.

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I thought Chimfunshi was a fascinating place and I really admire the work that is being done there.  Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, social, complex individuals who are suffering due to poaching, “bush meat” hunters, loss of habitat and general indifference.    Their numbers are decreasing at an alarming rate with only an estimated 150,000 still living in the wild.  Surely our closest living “relatives” deserve better from us.

“Chimpanzees have suffered so much pain and trauma at the hands of humans, yet they still have the grace to forgive us.”  (Sheila Siddle)

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The Lusaka Children’s Choir

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As I have mentioned before, Fridays at the school are a bit different.  There is a section of the day called “Global Issues.”  This is devoted to assemblies and events that (hopefully) connect the students to the wider world.  About once a month, there is an extended period of time where students take part in a service project of one kind or another.  Every student grade 6 – 12 must be involved in one of the projects.  Selected students function as leaders and organizers.  Every teacher must also be involved.

I was asked to co-lead the “Lusaka Children’s Choir” along with Geofrey, who is the manager of our Performing Arts Center and also directs a choir at his church and one of the local schools.  They started this activity last year…students from several local schools are bused in and combined with students from our school in the hopes of making music.  At the end of the year, there is a concert, which helps raise money for the local schools.  Apparently, last year, they spent almost the entire time rehearsing one song for this concert…and I got the feeling that the students had become quite frustrated with this.  Anyone who has seen me teach music knows that this really isn’t my style.  I suggested we jump right in and learn as many songs as we could…both African songs and songs from other countries.  So we started with some simple rounds – “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Music Alone Shall Live.”  I taught them Natalie Sleeth’s “Gaudeamus Hodie” and the calypso tune “Shake the Papaya Down.”  And Geof taught (or rather, reviewed, since most of them knew it!) a traditional Zambian song called “Tiyende Pamodzi” and also “Siyahamba” which we sing in the US as well.

I thought we sounded pretty good for a first attempt!  Please forgive the horrendous quality of the video…I am just learning how to use the camera on the iPad!  I also haven’t yet figured out how to embed the videos into the blog, so you’ll have to click on the links!  But please do click – it is worth hearing!

The uniformed kids are from a local school called “Appleseeds” and the younger children are from a primary school called “Open Arms.”  They were quite shy at first, but as you can see, they become more involved and expressive as we sang together.

Tiyende Pamodzi is a traditional African song that was popularized by Zambia’s first President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, who used the song in his election campaign.  For his purposes, the title would likely be translated as “Let’s move together with one heart.”

Learning Tiyende Pamodzi

Siyahamba is a South African song…some you might know it as “We Are Marching in the Light of God.”  I used to sing this with my kids at the Academy of Notre Dame and they loved it, too.  Such a great choral song.

Siyahamba – getting the alto part right!

Adding movement…

Putting all together.

I am really looking forward to working with Geof and this choir as the year goes on!  And I bet our end-of-the-year concert will be fantastic!

“24 Hour Drama”

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Besides hanging around at various Zambian locales and investigating the flora and fauna, I also work!  I teach music, and I am fortunate to be working with a drama director with lots of experience, plenty of energy, an enormous amount of creativity and a healthy dose of insanity.

This past weekend was the annual “24 Hour Drama” event.

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About 50 middle-school students (grades 6 – 8) descended upon the Performing Arts Center at exactly 7:00pm Friday evening and were greeted by about 10 High School drama students, who would be their teachers and guides for the next 24 hours.

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The kids were divided into three groups for warm-ups, brainstorming, discussion of themes and plots, various theater games and finally, creating, rehearsing and performing an original short play for their parents and friends on the following evening.

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In between, they would eat, swim in the pool, drink plenty of water and (at some point) sleep.

I showed up Saturday morning to check out the scene and take a few pictures.  Everyone was into the “brainstorming” phase, which included lots of physical activity and movement.

When I returned that evening, the motley groups had been transformed.  Now they were in “costume” and focused, ready to go on stage with their premiere performances.

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I was very impressed.  Each little play had a theme, a plot, an over-all “message” and every single student was involved.  Some had choreography and singing, too. From chaos had come order – and it was all their own work (with a big boost from the High School students, who looked only slightly bleary at the end!)

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Friday market…and lunch at Sugarbush Farm

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Fridays at the school tend to be somewhat more relaxed than the other days.  The students have an activity period called “Global Issues” which is usually an assembly or other activity.  It’s a half-day – we get out at 12:30.  And…there is the Friday market.

Early in the morning, a few of the local farmers bring their produce and set it up outside the canteen.  You have to be quick – it starts at 7:00am sharp and people are ready for it!  Everyone brings their own large shopping bags and coolers to fill.

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There are bags of potatoes and onions, bins of cabbage, cukes, lettuces and packages of tomatoes (which are year-round here) and a variety of other produce and herbs – today there was fresh spinach, scallions, dill and parsley.  My haul included a big sack of smallish onions,  some plum tomatoes, a bag of spinach, some spectacular carrots and more…and it cost only 50 kwacha (about $9.00)

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They also sell beautiful fresh flowers…

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At lunchtime, there is a different kind of market.  Local restaurants and privately-owned business come in to sell their wares.  In addition, there are a few other produce-sellers.  You can buy corn, pineapples, big bags of apples or pears and avocados.  There is the “Italian Guy” who sells chunks of Parmesan and mozzarella, and packages of prosciutto and other Italian delicacies. And you have a smorgasbord of options for lunch – including food from an Ethiopian restaurant or hand-made burritos from an authentic Zambian-owned Mexican restaurant.  (No joke!  The guy who originally owned it went back to Guatemala and before he left, he taught his employees how to make all the food – and now they run it!)  There are fantastic home-made cookies, fresh-made bagels and snacks like popcorn and muffins. And this happens every Friday!

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Today was the first Friday of the month, and so we had the “Ladies Who Lunch” – just a group of us who meet at the Sugar Bush Farm for a glass of wine (or two) and a nice lunch.  Sugar Bush is a local farm, craft shop and restaurant and it was a great way to unwind from a busy week.

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Hard to believe that I’ve been here more than a month – and that the first few weeks of school have gone by so quickly!

 

Hats, hats, hats…

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Every primary student (up to Grade 5) at the school is required to wear a hat when outside for lunch or recess.  If they don’t, they are restricted to a small shaded area.  The Zambian sun is very hot mid-day and kids could easily get sunstroke.  Copious water-drinking is also encouraged.  Most teachers also don a hat and carry a water bottle when outside.

When I was on a break the other day, the array of hats on the playground was so colourful that I thought I’d snap a few pictures.  Some of the kids were happy to pose for me, showing off their chapeaus.

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The older kids have no such restrictions – presumably they have enough brains to stay hydrated and out of the sun on their own.  And for the most part, they do!  The campus is open and there are plenty of ready-made places to sit for lunch, or study or a giggle with your friends.

IMG_1157 IMG_1158 IMG_1159 IMG_1161It is a very different lunch-time scene than ones I am used to, with all the kids crammed into a cafeteria, sitting at long tables and making a racket.  Somehow, being able to find a shady nook to sit and eat with a small group of friends seems much more civilised…