“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Finally a day of rest!

Open-billed stork
Stayed in bed til 10am reading and dozing; our first and only lie-in of the trip.
Had a lovely lunch and sat down on the jetty with our binoculars watching Elephants and Kudu on the far riverbank.
Went out on the river with 6 others and saw more Elephants, an Open-Billed stork and plenty of baboons. Think I have developed an addiction to chilli-sugared peanuts and dried mango – can’t seem to get enough of either of them.
Back for dinner… yet more gorgeous food – struggling to work out where they get hold of sprouts over here but they certainly have an incredible chef.
Had a few glasses of wine round the campfire with an English couple from Essex and went to bed, wondering how the first boodle club went today at Linda Farm. Will email Rachael tomorrow and find out.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Day trip to Botswana

630am wake up call when a flask of hot tea arrived at our room, so we showered to wake ourselves up and headed out just as it was getting light.
Michael and Caroline were waiting by the van to see us off and make sure we had everything and Caroline commented on the "love letter" we had left... both of them laughing. With any luck I will have clean socks again by the time we get back.
Crispin, our driver, took us to the Kazangulu border port on the Zambian side, passing endless queues of trucks waiting sometimes up to 14 days to cross, one at a time into neighbouring Botswana or Namibia on flatbed ferries.
He handed a piece of paper over to a waiting boatman, who would take us over the river to meet another guide on the Botswana side. All being well, Crispin would return to collect us back in Zambia at 430pm.
I will admit, the border crossing was a little daunting, not only because it was the first time we were alone (and unsure what the plan was), but also because we were carrying large expensive cameras through the throngs of hawkers at the border wanting to sell us copper bracelets and soapstone animal ornaments. Thankfully there wasn't too much hanging about and before long we were clinging on for dear life, bouncing over the waves in our tiny tin boat heading for the opposite bank.
"Six", our wildlife guide, arrived soon after we did and after a quick dip in the foot and mouth bath and some more passport stamping, we were off to Chobe. To our amazement, we had the land-cruiser all to ourselves.
After sorting out park fees and more paperwork we headed into the Chobe National Park through the Sedudu gate and almost immediately stopped for a "dazzle" of Zebra and some Impala. We had heard there was a male lion down by the riverbank, so we sped off in the right direction hoping we wouldn't be too late as he was on the move. By the time we got there, a large number of trucks were curb-crawling him through the bush as he looked for somewhere shady to pass the heat of the day. Not the ideal time to be on safari we knew, but beggars can't be choosers. He was sadly too far in for us to get a glimpse, so we moved on, Six declaring we would find our own lion, and within half an hour we had. Two in fact. It was not a great sighting for me as our driver had unfortunately broken an ethical boundary to get it, so let's just say it was memorable.
We moved on again, stopping for a comfort break and a drink in a strange, unguarded picnic area not so many yards from shagging elephants; Three bull elephants had separated a young female from her breeding herd and taken her into the bush, where they basically gang-raped her before leaving her dazed and very confused to find her way back to her mother and aunties. Fascinating to learn about but pretty eye-watering to watch, especially as the bull was twice the size of the poor female.
We moved on again passing over 50
Giraffe grazing on the tops of the Acacia trees, heading out of the park and down to a boat jetty, where we climbed on board our own private river safari boat and headed out for lunch at a place called "The Raft". It was floating on the Namibian side of the river almost touching the bank, and we were met by the staff singing us a welcome song and helping us off the boat. They had the grill going with all sorts of meat being cooked and cold white wine ready and waiting. It was bliss, but the highlight for me was yet to come. We spent the afternoon out on a river safari back in the Chobe NP.
We saw a herd of buffalo chasing an Elephant across the river and Elephants running and swimming from a lion (slightly worryingly in our direction), and a Hammerkop being mobbed by two Lapwing.
There were Elephants, Buffalo and Hippos everywhere we looked... both in and out of the water.
Sadly, but thankfully before the wind burn got too bad, it was time to leave and find our way back to the Kasane border post. We had multi-entry visas, so getting back into Zambia should have been perfectly straightforward, however the only indication of the visa type in our passports were the letters "M/E" scribbled in biro by the airport immigration staff.  Without sufficient US Dollars on us to buy more visas we fretted a little. Noticing the time, we also started to fret a little more... we were 30 minutes early and would have to suffer the hawkers again whilst we waited for Crispin to collect us.
The tin boat for the return journey was over the far bank when we got there, so a colleague kindly offered to take us back across the stretch of no-mans land to the waiting hawkers. Clutching cameras and binoculars and ready to brave it out, we stepped up to get off the boat and were asked who we were waiting for.... after our reply of "Waterberry", the shout went up, and was relayed round the port until seconds later Crispin appeared from behind a boat smiling reassuringly at us. Phew.  He even had cold beers in the cool box inside the vehicle. What a team Waterberry are. Thank you thank you thank you.
An awesome day; we saw some amazing sights, had moments of adrenaline, moments of wonder, sheer joy and happiness and, apart from the bone-shaker drive back along the dirt track to our lodge, I couldn't fault the day. Definitely money very well spent and just goes to prove, you don't need Attenborough-style big five action to enjoy the wildlife here.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Local village walk

Arrival at the first village
We left with Shadreck at 9am on the boat, heading up river through a series of rapids to get to the village, passing locals in their dugout canoes checking their fishing nets.
A guy called Gift was our guide. He lives in the first of the three villages we visited which seemed to us to also be the poorest. A collection of mud houses which need to be remade every 8/9 years on account of the termites that eat their way through the wooden uprights holding it together.

Stick walls are filled with mud and clay
The village had collective cattle and pig pens and a lady who grew (and sometimes sold) potted plants. We were discussing the cattle and the wealth they represent when Gift told us that they would only sell them if they needed to send a child to school, or they needed to pay a dowry (to buy one of the men a wife). The bride's family set the price and it may be 4 or 5 cows for the girl depending on her status and purity.  Gift then turned to Tracey and I and asked how much a bride would cost in England - when we told him they were free he immediately declared that he wanted to move to England.   Songiso wants to marry Katherine at the farm, but he cannot get together the 17,000 Kwacha needed for her dowry (about £1,700); What a way to start married life... with a man who is completely broke on account of the dowry!
Stilted food store in second village
The second village was clearly richer, having both a bar and a food store on stilts.
The third village was where the brand new school and church are located. Tracey and I were blown away by the sheer size of the school - compared to everything else we had seen in Zambia, it was a giant. Brightly painted and inviting, it is built on land purchased by Waterberry and funded by the guests and local projects, sales of craft items in the gift shop and of course overseas donations.
We were back from the village tour shortly before lunch and so spent some time on the terrace watching the monkeys and me re-boodling my camera case as I had to pick it apart to use the yarn to teach with last week.

Newly finished Tukongote Community Primary School
All our washing came back late afternoon in pristine condition, with the exception of about 8 pairs of socks. All our new and borrowed hiking socks; the one item I had completely run out of was socks, and so I wandered over to the reception desk to ask if they could check the laundry… nothing there, since we were about to head out onto the river again, we left Kelly going from room to room asking each of the guests if they had received our socks by mistake and promising she would track them down. She was very surprised as they have a pretty good system for laundry and it’s quite rare to lose a guests washing.

Definitely Tracey's shot of the day! Dust bath baby.
Today's river cruise was just a good as the last... eles, crocs, hippos, kingfishers and a race up river chasing sunset for a chance to see river otters again.

When we returned, the missing socks had become a complete mystery to the staff, as they had now checked every guest at both the lodge and the River Farmhouse down the road and still no sign.

They provide snacks on board the boat and so by the time Tracey and I had stuffed ourselves with peanuts, mini pasties and crisps, followed by a 3 course dinner, beer and wine, we could only waddle to the campfire and plonk ourselves down for a while. Stuffed and with trousers no longer able to do up, Tracey suddenly asked me if I had checked the inside pocket of the case when I emptied the laundry out? No I hadn't. So many people had been out looking for our socks and it turns out they had not even made it into the laundry basket in the first place. I felt awful. Reception was shut already and so a very apologetic note was called for, which I left wedged underneath an ornamental crocodile.  We couldn't stay up late as we were leaving for Botswana early in the morning to spend the day at the Chobe National Park.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Saturday - First day at Waterberry

Skipped breakfast this morning - figured we will be eating a ridiculous amount for the remainder of the day when we get to Waterberry, so we packed up our things, cleaned the room and donated our mosquito nets to the ladies at Sunbird along with some small gift necklaces. We said our goodbyes to the remaining few volunteers as most were off on safari in neighbouring Botswana for the weekend.

Rabeccah came to say goodbye and update us how things were progressing at the school we worked at last year. Tracey had arranged for a painter to go in and paint both the inside and outside of the whole place, and a local carpenter has been commissioned to make some new desks for some of the classrooms.  Any remaining budget will be spent purchasing new books for the children. She will go back to take some photos for Tracey when the work is all done which should be in plenty of time for the school year to start in September.

Scorpion we removed from the bathroom
Our Waterberry driver, Webster, arrived at lunchtime to collect us and we set off for hobbitland and the luxury of proper toilet roll, clean sheets and hot running water. Kelly greeted us on arrival and remembered us from last year which was fantastic. She is running the local community school project that we will visit tomorrow and deliver the final suitcase full of supplies - mainly sets of books, craft resources and glue sticks.

Coincidentally we are staying this year in the thatched chalet called "Sunbird"; after dumping an entire suitcase of washing in the laundry bag, we grabbed a glass of Chardonnay each, had some lunch and chilled out on our terrace - within minutes, a brown-hooded Kingfisher landed on the branch on front of us not more than 5 yards from where we sat - love love love this place and so pleased to be back. Webby and Matthews are still here, along with Shadreck, Bonface, Tessa, Michael and Caroline.

Webby took us out on the boat for the sunset cruise and as soon as we crossed the river and rounded the island we were treated to a huge breeding herd of elephants on the far bank followed by impala, kudu and baboons. We saw crocodiles, a fish eagle, and loads of vervet monkeys, Senegal Coucal, water dekop (thick knee), giant, pied and brown hooded kingfishers, a goliath heron, hammerkop, hippos, white-backed vulture, squacco heron, yellow-wattled lapwing, banded mongoose and Egyptian goose with chicks!!!!! the list goes on. The mighty Zambezi certainly lives up to its' name.

When we got back and switched on the wifi, we received a lovely whatsapp from Judy at the farm - Songiso had finally broken down in tears after we left - something Judy had never seen him do. They missed us already and wanted us to know how much they had all enjoyed the party.

After a gorgeous 3 course dinner, we sat alone round the campfire reflecting on the farm and the experience - relieved to be back at Waterberry, but sad also to have left Linda behind.

Friday, 11 August 2017

It's party time on the farm!!! - hardest day ever.

Linda Farm family with their donated nets and clothing
We braced ourselves for what we knew would be a hard and emotional day today, and set off for Shoprite, feeling more positive and excited about our final day and the planned afternoon party – the first hurdle loomed immediately when we discovered that Zambian rules don't allow the purchase of alcohol until 10am – so armed with fizzy pop, crisps, snacks and paper cups, we decided what will be will be - slapped on the smiles and jumped back in the taxi. The few beers we planned to celebrate with would have to come from elsewhere at some point during the day.
Songiso with the new laptop
Tracey and Judy spent the morning sorting through the donated clothes and mosquito nets to give to the families who live on the farm, and I took Songiso through the various apps we had installed on the donated laptop. Children's puzzles, books and music, as well as some Makaton signing hands singalong DVDs which would help the children to be able to communicate with the deaf residents.
Songiso almost broke down he was so humbled by the generosity of our British colleagues. At the moment, they have no computer at all and so they must walk 45 minutes into town and pay for soft drinks to enable them to use 30 minutes of free cafe wifi to send emails from their phones and communicate with the various farm suppliers and customers. This laptop will make their life so much easier and free up both time and money for the management team, not to mention allow them to produce monthly reports on Excel instead of paper which they can then email directly to the government instead of relying on the postal service.

Elidah and her lunchtime beer break
Donations all handed over and fields fully watered, the residents set up for the party…. Biltong and Songiso wired in some electrics for the speakers and we cleared the classroom of books and moved the desks around the outside to clear a dance-floor area…. Africans do love to dance.

We had a few tops left over which we decided to give to old Bernard, so when we saw him on his way from the farm home for lunch we handed over the bag and said our goodbyes. If we ever come back, he wants a suit so he can go smartly to church... "Mr Bernard they will call me". He wandered down the lane and waited until he reached the gates before opening the bag and finding out what was inside... a man full of respect; he could not see the shirts, nor know what colour or style they were, but he carefully examined each one with his hands - you kill me Bernard - I wish you every health and wealth this beautiful land can provide for you.

Judy and Elidah "twicking" the beer back to the farm
Judy and Elidah took us on a walk at lunchtime back to Mama Joyce's house (their local beer supplier) and after sinking a couple in her garden, the ladies loaded 2 crates full of Castle onto their heads and "twicked" back to the farm. Twicking is not a verb we have in the UK, mainly because no-one carries heavy loads on their heads, yet these women were walking, running and even Judy was dancing, whilst 18 large bottles of beer balanced untouched on a rolled up chitenge on her head. Zambian alcohol purchasing laws turned out to be a blessing in disguise; I wouldn't have missed it for the world... discussing the differences between twicking and twerking, we giggled all the way back as more and more people shouted from their gardens wishing us a great party.

Boodling class of 2017 with all their work
The ladies were all dressed up in their finest outfits, you can get a handmade tailored dress or suit, in a material of your choice, made within a day, for about £15 here and these women clearly love the bright African colours - some had even put on special wigs for the occasion.
As the women arrived with their competition entries, the judging table began to fill, until soon more tables were needed - there were hats, boots, doormats, and hanging baskets, table mats, purses, a pencil case complete with zip, rucksacks and even a water bottle holder. Tracey and I were blown away. We laid everything out and just as the judging was about to start and Tracey and I were thinking how impossible it was going to be, Rachael (from the glass workshop) turned up and agreed to be the one to make an independent final call in each category.
We had prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd for Best Hat, Mat, Bag, Basket and Plastic Item, as well as a prize for most inventive item, fastest learner and perseverance, and of course we did not forget Biltong, without whom we would have not been able to continue teaching this week.
Rabeccah came from the Sunbird to watch the prizes being given and left soon afterwards which is when the celebrations began in the classroom next door...

Nothing like a party in England where the dance-floor remains empty until enough alcohol has been consumed that Dad-dancing becomes a must... oh no, the music started and the feet started at exactly the same time. The admirable thing about Africans is that they have no inhibitions, no sense of self-loathing or negative body-image - they laugh, they smile, they dance and sing and they do it as if it were the last time they would ever get to enjoy it. They don't fret that their precious outfits will get dirty or damaged, they move freely and joyously to every beat and Arina made sure there were lots of beats. Traditional Zambian music rang out from that classroom for a good few hours and soon it was our time to go.

Leaving was hard, seriously hard - tears fell, handshakes turned to hugs and hugs turned to squeezes. Going to miss these people for so many reasons; not only have they inspired us, taught us and humbled us, but they are doing such good work and seem eager to continue. The new boodling club starts on Tuesday and will meet twice a week. Rachel will help them to source supplies at sensible prices and with any luck they will soon be making an income from it. They have picked it up so quickly and I am immensely proud of each and every one of them. If their competition entries are anything to go by, this community and it's new club, will be breaking even by the end of the month.