Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tanzania Trip

Two things I’ll definitely remember about our trip up to Tanzania: transport and food. We used almost every mode of transport you can think of – sleeper trains, minibuses, dalla dallas (riding in the back of a canter Zanzibar style), hitching on the back of a truck, bicycle taxis, taxis, coaches, ferries and a catamaran made out of mango tree and of course out own two feet.

And, as for the food – despite being in a majority Muslim country just as the holy month of Ramadan began (ooops!) I’ve never eaten so much yummy stuff day after day. On the Tazara railway that runs from Zambia up to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania we were given a whole flask of spicy chai for breakfast and every other morning we managed to find fresh exotic fruit on our brekkie plates. Fresh seafood was everywhere in Dar and Zanzibar. Despite calling my self a vegetarian I can gladly devour a plate of fresh prawns or crab. The spices on Zanzibar made all the food taste and smell delicious. We even found mangoes – the one bad thing about leaving Zambia a couple of weeks early was going to be missing the mango season.

Anyway I won’t bore you all too much with the detail but here are a few pictures of the trip.

From the Tazara Train
The Taanzania-Zambia Railway runs from Kapiri Mposhi, just north of Lusaka in Zambia to Dar Es Salaam. At best it takes about 42 hours and with beds to sleep on and a restaurant that serves delicious Chai in the morning and the friendliest on-board immigration officials I’ve ever come across its definitely better than the bus. We met lots of Zambians travelling to Dar to buy second hand gear to sell back in Zambia. Unfortunately our train stopped about 20 hours short of its destination in a really bleak town in southern Tanzania. We were lucky and hoped straight on a bus to the nearest big town.

Iringa turned out to be a little gem of a place plonked at the top of a really steep hill – with a bustling market full of colourful veg and spices, a really friendly hotel manager who helped us change our dollars on a Sunday and a yummy Indian restaurant round the corner.

Dar es Salaam
After living in Zambia – the most conservative of African countries with the sleepiest Capital City Dar es Salaam – Tanzania’s capital seemed to be a cosmopolitan city crammed full of busy, determined people. The fish market was excellent.


Zanzibar really does live up to its reputation. Walking through the cramped alleys of Stone Town you feel like you’ve stepped back a couple of centuries and crossed into another continent. The beaches are magnificent (although I think prefer Lake Malawi with no salt and no tide). And I’ll give the food another mention - Just along from the port at sunset the local fisherman dock and lay out their days catch – crab, shark, prawns, red snapper, octopus…for about a pound you can take your pick for dinner and wash it down with freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

Instead of getting the Tazara back to Zambia we thought we’d be adventurous and take our luck with public transport through Malawi. About twenty different minibuses, two bicycle taxis, three taxis, two hitched lifts and a coach ride later we finally made it back to Chipata.

It was all worth it for a couple of days mountain biking in the Luwawa Forest with local residents little Bob and Leon the beast as guides!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Less than a month left

We’ve spent much of the past year reminiscing about the UK and making top ten lists of things we’re going to eat (mushrooms, Coop apple and cinnamon English muffins), see (Home and Away) and do (a proper pint at a proper pub.) We’re now counting down the last month in Zambia and it’s started to dawn on me that there actually might be things that I miss about Chipata.

Multi-cultural dinner parties
. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, we shared the dining room with a young Indian volunteer who’s spent the last month spending literally heaps of Zambian Kwacha on phone calls home to his wife-to-be who he’s yet to meet. Next to him was Amanda, our English housemate and her parents who are in their mid-seventies but look little older than 55. Opposite me sat Denis, a Ugandan VSO who asked me to explain what ‘sleazy’ meant in between mouthfuls of lasagne. Stephen, sat to my right told us how in his clan back home in Uganda a couple must be able to recite five genealogical lineages to ensure that no ‘cross-breeding’ would occur. Alternatively, the President’s clan must marry their first cousin. And then there was me sniffling in the corner (I had a stinking cold) next to an exhausted Henry (he’d been running a conference since 07:30 that morning.)

Buying in-season veg fresh from the market, the tomatoes here taste amazing, really sweet and always a gorgeous scarlet colour which contrast to the oranges which, if not caught just at the right time are bitter and still green. I’ve definitely missed being able to get mushrooms, red peppers or courgettes all year round but there is something really satisfying knowing that you’re eating fruit that fell from a tree outside your living room window or veg that was grown in your neighbour’s garden. And we’re not even here long enough to see another mango season. Ahhhh!

Having the time to cook the fresh veg into something yummy. There’s not much to do in Chipata by means of evening entertainment so we’ve spent many a night trying out new recipes. I’m under no illusions that I will actually keep up this good habit back in the UK what with getting home after six and having Home and Away and the pub to tempt me away from the kitchen.

SarryAnna No matter where you go in Zambia there is always a gaggle of children ready to jump out from nowhere. In our neighbourhood the children are yet to tire of shouting ‘sarryanna, sarryanna, how are you, how are you, where’s Jimmy? Where’s Jimmy’ I definitely won’t miss the shouts of ‘Oi! Mzungu, give me money’ from the adult men but I won’t put up too much of a fight if the children try and jump into my suitcase.

Having our own personal tailor. I spent last Saturday morning rummaging through my wardrobe and throwing away most of the clothes I brought out with me (most of which are now stained orange from the dust). And my suitcase is now going to be a headache of bright colours from all the bits and bobs I’ve got made out of the local chitenge material. I really can’t tell whether it’ll look alright on a British high street but someone told me bright prints were in?

And of course Jimmy, but my mind was put to rest a little after we visited her new home. She’s going to be living with Franklin, Henry’s colleague who has a house with a court yard, complete with smiling kids and her best friend-to-be; Brucie the neighbours sloth like mut.

So this is it. We’re flying home on Thursday, September 27th. Henry starts his new job on October 1st in Lewes, near Brighton and I head for the job centre. Between now and then we’re heading up to Tanzania and Zanzibar to lap up the last bit of African sunshine before heading home just in time for the British Autumn. Great!

P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos but I think the dodgy electrics here fried my camera’s battery charger and I’ve only just got a new so fingers crossed for next time. See you all soon xx

Monday, July 23, 2007

Global Education

As part of the VSO deal, Youth for Development volunteers are expected to carry out a ‘Global Education Project’. Back in October 2006, I started my project at St Mary’s Primary School in Oxfordshire. Thanks to the lovely Mr Slatter, I got to ask the eight and nine year olds of Ash Class what they knew about Zambia and what they thought the lives of their peers living on the other side of the world might be like. At one point I gave the 8 year old pupils some photos of Zambian children to look at and asked them what was the same or different about these children compared to themselves. After a few moments of thought, one little boy stuck his hand in the air; ‘Zambian children all sit on the floor with their legs stretched out and in England we sit with our legs crossed.’ Throughout this lesson and the next this observation kept cropping up and it struck me that being told to sit cross legged on the floor during assemblies and story time is one of my strongest primary school memories. (Much to my secondary school teachers’ dismay, I found the habit hard to break and sat with my legs crossed even after I was deemed mature enough to sit on chairs in assembly.)

In contrast, Zambia is the land of straight legs. One of the veg markets in town is called the ‘ladies sitting with their legs stretched out’ market, (it does have a catchier Nyanja name that I can’t remember right now) our gardener bends from the waist to water the the plants and school children do indeed sit with their legs outstretched during story-time.

In many ways, the differences I’ve observed between children here in Zambia and those back home do boil down to things as trivial as the way they sit or the football team they support. But then, when a little Zambian kid tells me that the thing that makes him most happy is when his Daddy brings a cow home and they can drink fresh milk they suddenly seem worlds apart.

Attached to one of the organisations I work for is a community school. In Zambia, primary education is free up to Grade 7. I write free in italics because many families, despite not having to pay school fees, cannot afford to educate their children. It might be deemed rebellious in the UK to turn up to school wearing jeans instead of the standard black pleated trousers or ‘forgetting’ your tie but here a ten year old turning up to school without the same blue skirt and blouse her friends are wearing would automatically stand out as the ‘poor’ kid. A new uniform, including the right colour socks and shiny shoes would set you back 150,000 kwacha. We pay our gardener a wage equivalent to a yearly salary of 1,440,000 kwacha and he has four school-aged children to clothe, if he chose to send his children to one of the free government schools almost half his yearly income would be spent on their uniforms. On top of this, parents are also expected to equip their children with books and pens and it’s not uncommon for them to be asked to contribute when a roof springs a leak during the rains. Beyond Grade 7, a place in school costs K250,000 a year (not including uniforms).

Community schools that ask parents to contribute between 8000-15000 per term are th alternative. There are over 200 pupils at Chisomo’s community school. The class rooms are grass fences leant up against each other, creating a space little bigger than the size of a double bed or a straw mat under the open sky. The children sit with their legs stretched in front of them with their books on their laps and learn the English alphabet to the tune of Alde Lang Syne. This is where the Zambian side of my Global Ed Project takes place.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Visitor's View

I’m Sally-Anne’s cousin, Lucy and am currently on a gap year before starting uni. After doing a whole lot of nothing for the beginning of my year I thought I had better do something worthwhile, so I came out to visit Sally-Anne for a month in Zambia.
I’ve done a lot whilst I’ve been here, from horseback riding at Lake Malawi to visiting Victoria Falls in Livingstone. I have loved being a tourist in Zambia and doing all the activities that are available but I have also loved seeing another side of Zambia; the everyday lives of the local people. Lives that I wouldn’t have been able to see without having Sally-Anne living here as a local.

The first part of my stay was spent visiting sights along Lake Malawi and staying in various lodges, with Sallyanne, Henry and my aunt and uncle. Highlights of my time there included horseback riding through the woods and then going into the sea on the horses at Kande Beach,

and a day trip which involved a walk through small local villages at Nkhata Bay, then down to a beautiful cove where we sunbathed, snorkelled and ate freshly caught fish cooked by our guide on the beach. Our day ended with a trip out on our guides’ boat where we waited for fish eagles to swoop down from the cliffs to catch the fish thrown by own guide and to pose for photos!

On our way back down the lake we stopped at Nkhotakota Pottery for the night and spent an hour learning how to make our own pots (which were terrible and looked nothing like the instructor’s) and had the chance to buy some of the hand made pottery. I now have two African cups for university which no-one can claim as theirs unless they’ve also been to the pottery in Malawi!

Something I noticed in Malawi was the amount of people on the roads walking with heavy loads of supplies balanced on their heads or pushing bikes loaded high. It’s incredible the distances these people walk or cycle to get from one town or village to another, and they do it because they have to. Another thing that astounds me is the number of people who can fit in the back of a truck. Because there’s little public transport people pile in pickup trucks, and I’m really surprised the vehicles don’t topple over backwards from the weight crammed in the back. Not to mention the size of the potholes here that you have to swerve to avoid, plus the fact that the most of the roads here are just dirt tracks; it can make travelling a bit difficult for most vehicles, yet people still manage to do it.

During my stay here we also spent three days at South Luangwa so we could go on safari. This was brilliant; when we first got there we sat waiting by the bar for our talk of what we would be doing during our stay, and whilst sat having lunch we saw a family of giraffe walking down towards the river, not far from us. It’s so surreal to see these animals I’ve only ever seen in zoos just walking around only a few hundred metres from me. I had many experiences like that throughout my stay in Zambia, both on safari and just driving along the road or walking through a car park. Every time I saw a wild animal I got very excited and had to explain to locals and taxi drivers, when they asked why I was so pleased to see these animals, that we don’t have animals like these just walking round England, only in zoos. My highlight of safari was seeing a female lion with her three young cubs, as well as getting to see a male lion up close. At one point a little too close as our vehicle went down a ditch and the lion walked up a verge alongside so that he was at eye level with us, much to the fright of me as I was sat on the edge.

I also spent a few days down in Livingstone. As Sally-Anne had already been their with her parents the week before I got to Zambia I decided to still go alone because I couldn’t miss seeing Victoria falls. To get there I had to get two buses first to Lusaka then to Livingstone the following morning. After hearing what my aunt and uncle had told me about these buses I was really dreading the journey. I was imagining them to be the tiny small mini busses you often see crammed and with people hanging out the side.
A guy I met in Livingstone said he spent a whole journey in one of these buses with a woman’s right breast and half her thigh on his lap, along with her shopping bag that she couldn’t hold because she was carrying a chicken with her! Another person I met calls them the ‘here hold my baby buses’. Need I say more about why I was partly dreading this six hour journey!
Luckily the coaches I was on weren’t that bad, but weren’t that great either. The seats are incredibly narrow so if you have a larger person sat next to you then you have one of their arms and legs squashing into yours. Fortunately for me, I find it very easy to sleep when travelling so I slept most of the time. However, this was made slightly more difficult by the TV which was incredibly loud and playing two hours of Zambian choir music. I enjoyed the first few songs but after about half an hour was forced to get my iPod out.

I arrived in Livingstone on Saturday and a friend of Sally-Anne's who works in Livingstone had arranged to take me to a HIV concert that night. It was meant to be a really big concert with Zambia’s main acts performing. It was a fun experience, yet I needed a bit of wine for it. Not surprisingly there were very few white people there and we were stood with the crowd of people who knew every word and dance to all the songs. Luckily the wine helped in making me feel not so out of place! It was something different though and I enjoyed having the opportunity to see a Zambian concert, and it was for a good cause after all.
I went to see Vic falls the following day and it was incredible. But I was rather stupid and thought I wouldn’t need to hire one of the rain coats. After all, the people coming back up didn’t look that wet and a group before me were going down without them, so I set of without one. On my way along the path a woman looked at me in my little top and linen trousers and just said “you’re brave”. That was when I first realised I might have made a big mistake. The people I saw who weren’t that wet had not in fact been all the way across the bridge and along the edge of the cliff so avoided most of the spray. So by the time I’d got back to the beginning of the path I was completely drenched from head to toe and it took me three hours to dry off! But it was worth it.
Having Alexa, Sally-Anne’s friend who lived in Livingstone, there meant I got to do something tourists didn’t. One morning I went with her to her work, which is a block housing her offices, a small school block, and a few locals who live their. Among the people that lived there were five children; these children were special because Alexa had worked to get four of the five sponsored by English people so that they could afford to go to school. When we first got there they ran up shouting Alexa’s name and gave her a big hug then came and hugged me too. A little boy called Junior and a girl called Sheila grabbed hold of my hand and I instantly fell in love with them all. As it was half term we spent the morning learning to write a few letters, singing songs and playing games. I loved it and was pleased I got to see a different side of Zambia that unfortunately many tourists and visitors missed, just as much as any bungee jump or gorge swing.

My sleeping on the coach on the way back to Chipata was also affected. Firstly, by a strong smell of fish that the person opposite was carrying with them and secondly by a man who came and sat next to me halfway through the journey. It was nice to have a bit of conversation for a change but after an hour and a half of comparing everything there is in Zambia to that in England he wasn’t really getting the hint that I just wanted to go back to sleep; so I spoke with this stranger the whole way back to Chipata about every aspect of the education system, buildings, food, culture, religion etc of both countries, for nearly three hours. One thing I find very funny here is how when I mention that I’m English, to certain people I’ve met, they ask me how the Queen is? I have to explain to them, much to their astonishment, that I haven’t actually met her and that most people in England haven’t either. This is something they don’t seem to understand, like the Queen makes personal visits round to peoples houses for cups of tea and biscuit.
When I got back to Chipata I phoned Ruben, the taxi driver to pick me up. When he arrived his previous fare got out and went round to open the boot. I thought he was opening it so that I could put my bags inside, but when I looked down there was a black goat staring up at me. The previous customers just lifted it out and walked off carrying it by the legs and Ruben got back in the car like this wasn’t weird at all! It may not have been for anyone else but I certainly found it weird, yet funny and just got in the taxi slightly baffled but laughing quietly to myself.

Overall I have had a brilliant time here in Zambia and although after a month I’m slightly homesick, I’m also going to be really sad to have to leave and go home. I now have my mind set that I shall make sure to do more travelling whenever I get the chance because if I have the opportunity to have another experience like this I wouldn’t miss it for the world!