Friday, July 28, 2006

Going, Going, Gone!

It took three hours to get my hair done on Wednesday night, but I really love it and everyone seems to like it, especially the Africans. It only cost the equivalent of ten pounds anyway, and it would have cost a fortune in England, so even if it doesn’t last long it’s worth it. When I got home I called DL, and managed to shed some light on why she was so upset about not meeting me at the airport. Jokingly earlier in the evening one of the girls said, ‘maybe she was planning to propose at the airport’, and not really thinking it myself I told DL, more out of amusement than anything. Anyway, it turns out that the girl hit the nail on the head, and although DL wouldn’t admit to it directly, just refused to comment, I’m now sure that’s what she was planning. I can’t believe it, she’d mentioned before that she’d seen the perfect engagement ring, but said that she couldn’t’ afford to buy it yet. So I’m very shocked, and can’t believe I’ve screwed up her plans. Now I know why she was so gutted that I changed the flight. To be honest I think if she’d have proposed at the airport I would have passed out, this month has been emotional enough, and I need to recharge my batteries. She won’t do it now for ages I know, because I’m expecting it and she wants to surprise me, so I might be waiting a while yet.

Yesterday I took the morning off to pack all my things, and then went to the orphanage in the afternoon for the last time. I didn’t cry when I said goodbye, my emotions are completely screwed at the moment, as when we were in the car going to the other house for a wine and chese night, I again had to choke back tears for no particular reason. Very strange. I did cry this morning though when I said goodbye to everyone from my house as they left for work and do feel better for it. So now everything is packed, and I’m writing this while waiting to go to the airport. I just hope everything goes smoothly as I’ve changed my schedule. The plan is that I arrive at 8:45 tomorrow morning in Manchester, and mum will meet me there. I’ll go and stay at her house for one night and see all the family, and then drive back up to Sheffield on Sunday in conjunction with DL’s drive up from London, and meet her there. Then we have a full week to spend together until baby Una arrives. Sounds good to me, and although I’ve loved my time here, there’s no place like home.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Home sick, home early

I knew this last week would be difficult, as we did all the activities we wanted to do in the past three weeks, so now we’re just working and don’t have anything much planned before we leave. I was already feeling pretty home sick, but the real problem started when the schools began end of term tests this week, which meant that we couldn’t teach and there wasn’t much for us to do in the mornings. This morning it all hit me in one go at the school, we were sitting on the steps trying to make a plan of what to do, and Sophia suggested we could do some colouring with the younger ones. That’s fine in itself, but I’d just got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t being proactive enough in the work we were doing because of the school situation, my resolve broke and to my utter embarrassment I became tearful and really had to fight the urge to sit and have a good old cry. I explained to Marleen how I was feeling, and that being away for so long was getting to me and she took me home, and I made the decision to call my mother, and have her change my flight to an earlier date. I know it sounds ridiculous, but most people are leaving on Saturday, and I would have a full weekend of having nothing to do, added to not having much to do at work, and I can’t stand waiting around to go home. So, between mum and myself we spent all day on the phone to different people, trying to get the flights changed, and I even went to the airport, although it was of little use as they couldn’t do anything from there. Anyway, it’s done now, and I’m leaving on Friday morning. The only thing is I told DL, and she was really annoyed that I’m coming home early, and I can’t understand why. She said that meeting me at the airport was a big thing for her, and if I land on Saturday she’ll still be in London and won’t be able to do that, but surely us being able to see each other three days earlier than planned is better. I don’t understand anyway, and being angry and upset, her not being pleased I’m coming home was the last thing I wanted to hear, so we had words and I ended the call. Sometimes I really don’t understand the way she thinks. So tonight I’m going to have my hair braded, which I’m really excited about, then I have one day left, woohoo! This means I’ll be busy right up until I go home, and won’t have time to sit and think.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Drunken Elephants

Oh dear! On Thursday night we all went on a booze cruise, and yes, you can guess why I’m saying oh dear. We started drinking at 4 in the afternoon on the Zambezi River, and I was on vodka and coke. By the time we got off the boat at about 6:30 I was drunk. By the time we left Hippo’s at midnight, I was absolutely plastered. I haven’t been so drunk in a long time, apparently I was dancing and singing, I ordered food and then didn’t eat it, mixed strange concoctions of drinks together, kept saying I was going home and ordered taxis which I then didn’t want, and I was sick repeatedly in the loo and kept on drinking afterwards. Disgraceful! The only saving grace was that Kate was even more drunk than I was, and when we got back she stood on a chair to kill a bug and promptly fell off. I got in DL's bad books because I called her, and then proceeded to have conversations with everyone in the room as well as her, which pissed her off, and then I fell in to bed at around half past midnight. Woke up on Friday morning feeling like death, couldn’t keep away from the loo for more than five minutes and had to take the morning off work. That’ll do me for the next year, and as yet haven’t been able to bring myself to touch a drop even though we were out last night. On Saturday we worked in the morning and then in the afternoon went on an elephant backed safari, which was amazing. There were two of us on an elephant plus a guide, and the tallest one stood at over ten feet. We had to walk up steps on to a platform to get on to them, and at one point we waded through a stream by the river so that the elephant could have a drink. It was absolutely wonderful and hopefully I’ll have some great pics. In the evening we went out to a seafood restaurant, and I had deep fried calamari to start, followed by prawn curry, which was delicious. Today most people are out, either doing the elephant safari or the gorge swing, so I’m home reading, writing and relaxing, and being slightly bored. I don’t like having nothing to do, it makes me miss home, and although I love it here, I’ve already started to count the days until I go home.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Education! Education! Education!

This entry is mainly to comment on the education system of Zambia and how appalled I am that actually educating the kids seems to be last on everyone’s list. I’m outraged because, within half an hour of arriving at the school on Monday, we were informed by the headmaster that the minister of education for Zambia had called a meeting and that it would take all day, so all the children apart from grades 8 and 9 were being sent back home. So to me, this poses the question of what kind of minister is he to call a meeting within school hours, making the kids miss out on a full day of there education? It’s not just that, over the past two weeks I’ve observed that:
A: the school day is supposed to start at 7 A.M. Lessons don’t start until 7:45 at the earliest, and that’s if the teacher is enthusiastic.
B: There is no structure to the length of the lessons, no bells to signify the end of a particular one, so for example the kids could spend an hour and a half doing maths, and then fifteen minutes doing English or vice versa. It all depends upon when the teacher decides they have to start something else.
C: The kids are not at all motivated by their teachers, and the staff are quite happy to sit chatting while the kids take an hour to do a piece of work that should take twenty minutes with some prompting and help from the teachers.
D: The teachers tend to set the work on the board, and then disappear, sometimes for the entire morning. So, if a child has difficulty with the work, no help is given.
E: If a teacher is off sick, the class is just left to sit there. There are no supply teachers and the children sit and hope that some one will come along and teach them at some point. This past week I’ve had kids come and beg me to teach them something, they are so keen to learn.
F: some of the teachers even get the work they are setting wrong. Words are misspelled on the board, and maths sums are done incorrectly. Thus the kids get confused.
G: In terms of lack of materials, the classrooms are stone walls with no windows and sometimes no proper floors. The desks are mostly falling apart, and often there are up to 8 kids crammed together on a desk meant for four, making it very difficult for them to write comfortably. There is a great shortage of text books, exercise books, and writing materials.

Just some things I have noticed while being here. This week I’ve been actually teaching classes everyday, it really is a case of walk around the school and see which classes have no teachers, and you can guarantee you can find a class easily. The hard part for me is knowing what to teach them, because as the grading system is different it’s hard to know what level the kids are at. To be honest even those in the higher grades are learning basic subject matter, so it’s not difficult to set work once you find out what subject they’re supposed to be doing. All they ever seem to do in maths as well, is fractions. The kids can’t do their times tables, yet they are being taught fractions. Even the teachers have a chart with the times tables on, so I’ve been doing lots of practicing learning them off by heart with the kids. It’s just so different from western education, I don’t know how the country ever expects that the kids will go far with a system like this. The brighter ones, if motivated enough will hopefully get a decent start, the rest either drop out, fail, or get married when they hit their teens and so don’t complete their education. It is not compulsory for the kids to go to school here. It’s madness and the whole system needs reshaping, and that fucking minister wants firing!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Zim, Zam, Zoo

Feeling sorry for myself didn’t after all last that long, and on Thursday night we went back to Hippo’s, to prove a point to both ourselves, and anyone who might have wanted to scare us away. We had a brilliant night, and made sure we got a taxi from the door this time. On Friday we worked all day, and then had about half an hour to hurriedly prepare to go to Zimbabwe. I managed to squeeze everything in to my rucksack, and carried a sleeping bag separately, and along with Kate, felt quite unsettled about having to carry our passports and money around with us after what happened. Everything was fine though, we passed over the border with no problem, and then were taken to Villa Victoria where we were to stay. The place itself was by African standards lovely, and we arrived to find a BBQ waiting for us, which was wonderful. Before leaving Kate and I had discussed sharing a room, as I’ve said before that both Annette who I share with, and Lisa and Jenny who Kate shares with go to bed earlier than we do. Earlier on the Friday we were asked if we were ok staying with the people we were already sharing with, and immediately Annette said it was fine before I could object. So I went to have a word with Dave on the quiet, and explained that I didn’t want to share with her, and that Kate and I would like to share a room. So all was fine, and Kate and I were put in to a room of four with Kirsty and Meg, which turned out to be lovely, and Annette and most of the others stayed at another lodge. However, when we got back and I jokingly asked Annette if she’d missed me, she said that yes she was quite upset that we didn’t get to share, and that if I wanted to share with some one else it was ok, (sniff sniff, sounding offended). So now I feel awful, because somehow she must have found out that I’d asked to be put with some one else. Oops! Anyway, back to the trip.

On that first night in Zim we went out, intending to just stay for a couple, as the big night out was on the Saturday. Anyway, as you might have guessed we ended up getting hammered, and didn’t leave until around two. It was a fab night, and I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire time at one thing or another. So we finally crashed in to bed with four hours to get some sleep, having to be up for six to do the lion walk on the Saturday. When six o’clock came, I have to say I wished that they’d just forget about the lion walk so that we could stay in bed, but it turned out to be such an amazing experience. When we got there we were given a talk about the lion’s, and then were taken on the walk with them. They were from seven to eighteen months old, and ran in front, or walked alongside us as we made our way through their territory. It was quite scary, but awesome at the same time, and while they lay down we could go and sit next to them and stroke their backs, which was incredible. I should hopefully have some amazing photographs to show back home, and Kate bought a DVD which I’ll try and copy. After the lion walk we then headed to the Victoria Falls, and got drenched from the spray, again another amazing experience. The water is so powerful, that it really does sound like traffic rushing past, and it’s something else to stand and smell the spray, feel the mist on your skin, and listen to the roar of a million litres of water per second cascading in to the river below.

In the afternoon we went to the local market to do some shopping, and I ended up having to go back on Sunday morning as I didn’t take enough money out to spend. The money situation in Zim is crazy, it’s around 400000 Zim dollars to the American dollar, and around 1000000 Zim dollars to the pound, and it fluctuates drastically daily. The notes tend to come in small dinominations, and so if you go out with say around 40 notes, you may only have around two pounds, which was exactly the mistake I made at the market. Anyway after both trips I came away with a chess set carved in stone for my dad, two large stone ashtrays, one with a hippo and the other with an elephant calved in to them for mine and Lucy’s mum, a drum, a hippo made from reddy brown wood, a necklace and three stone statues, all for less than fifty pounds. I loved haggling with the traders, and when people saw how much I persuaded them to lower the prices, they were asking me to barter for them which was amusing. A taxi driver over there also commented that if I wasn’t going back to England he would have hired me as a negotiator, having knocked his price down from 2000000 dollars to just over 1000000 for a taxi ride.

On the Saturday evening we went to the Boma restaurant, where we paid 35 dollars for food and entertainment. It was such a good night, the food was delicious and the entertainment fabulous. I had roasted vegetables in a garlic sauce to start, and then for my main course I tried Ostrich kebab and Warthog in a sweet sauce, with potatoes and stir fried veg, which was surprisingly good and for which I was proud of myself for trying. You could also get a certificate for eating a caterpillar, but I wasn’t brave enough to go for that. While we were eating people came around beating drums, chanting and dancing, which was wonderful, then afterwards we were given a drumming lesson, which was very amusing. We also tried the Boma cocktail which was foul, had our faces painted with tribal designs, and for one dollar had our fortunes told. The guy said that I was with someone whom I loved deeply and thought of constantly, that I would have two boys and a girl and then seven grand children, that I would live a long and healthy life, and that I would come in to a lot of money in six years time. We will wait and see how accurate he was. After the restaurant we went back to the bar and had drinks, but the night before turned out to be better and everyone was home by around one.

The only bad point about the trip was that my phone battery died and my phone wouldn’t charge for some reason, so I couldn’t communicate with Lucy the whole time I was there. I knew she’d be worrying, which made me worry even more, and on Sunday morning I asked to use the phone of the villa, and managed to leave a message on her mobile. My phone is working now though, which is a relief, I really would go crazy if we couldn’t talk while I’m here. We arrived back in Zambia this afternoon to fine that the house has now become a zoo. Along with the goat and three cats, we now have a dog called Toby, who is adorable, but not exactly house trained as yet. It’s lovely having a dog around though, as I can’t stop thinking about what it’ll be like getting a guide dog when I get back. Well, that’s it for now, I’m now half way through my stay, and it feels as though I’ve been here forever in many ways.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Give and take

The past few days have been quite eventful all in all. On Sunday evening when a few people, including the project leaders had left to go and watch the football at a local bar, we discovered that they hadn’t thought to buy milk for that evening or the next day. We reasoned that with it being a Sunday, most of the shops in town would be closed, and so Annette wanted to go next door to see if we could buy any from them. So basically, her, Lisa and I went around about three houses, asking for milk, and I think they thought we were crazy. I don’t think borrowing a cup of milk off a neighbour is the done thing in Zambia. Eventually we knocked on a door which happened to be the house of the local pastor, and his wife sent us out with a man from that house, to go and buy milk from the market. This man was apparently a community police man, and spoke very good English. He said the market wasn’t far, but we ended up walking for ages. We did however manage to get some milk, and on the way back he tried to rope us in to going to their church, and attending a bible study class at the Pastor’s house. I hurridly, but gracefully declined both offers. Then for some reason when we got back and I spoke to DL on the phone, I got extremely emotional and a bit tearful, and it kind of hit me that I was in Africa, with three weeks to go before we saw each other again. I went to bed straight after we spoke though, and felt much better the next day.

Monday was the first day spent working at Dambwa basic school, and I learned a lot that day. The way the education system works over here, is that parents pay for their children to go to school, and the system operates on different levels of education, depending on how wealthy the parents are. So, Dambwa basic school is as the word implies. The children that go there are receiving the basic level of education, because their parents can only just about afford to pay for them to go to school. Those that can’t pay simply don’t receive an education, like most of the orphans for example. Some of our volunteers are also working at a voluntary school, where basically people volunteer to teach the kids that can’t afford an education whatever they can, and apparently the teaching there is even worse than at Dambwa. Corperal punishment is still in practice here also, and if the parents don’t pay the school fees on time, the children get beaten. Thankfully I haven’t seen a child be punished yet, although some of the others have. On Monday morning I was put in to a special needs class, and here they class everything from dyslexia, visual impairment, a little mental slowness, behavioural problems, to those who have a complete inability to learn as being special needs. Apparently the teachers go around the villages picking out those they think have special needs, and take them to the hospital to get it confirmed, goodness knows how. These kids are then put in to this special needs class, and are all taught together. I saw kids with varied abilities, and also a varied age range, the youngest being 8, the oldest a grown man, all in the same class. To be honest I found it extremely difficult working in there, because hardly any of them spoke English, and I had great difficulty in communicating with them properly. So in the afternoon we all paired up, and Cat and I went in to a class which had science and then an English lesson, which was great. I again got adopted by a little girl, whose spoken english was very good, but whose writing was poor, so I helped with her spelling an dtried to get her to stop fixating on my hair. She kept touching my face and saying, “Such a beautiful girl,” which was amusing. Then yesterday I was paired up with Kate, who I am getting to be really good friends with, and we had to actually take a class of 50 kids, without text books or anything. The way it works in the schools is that the teachers, if they bother to turn up at all, set the work for the kids, and then go out of the class room, sometimes for hours on end, leaving them to it. So if the kids don’t understand what they’re supposed to be doing, which is most of the time, they can’t do the work, and are more than likely punished for that. Some teachers also can’t spell properly, and in one maths lesson the teacher got 3 out of 5 fractions they were doing wrong herself, and so the kids got totally confused. It’s just crazy. So the class we ended up teaching had no teacher, and were just sitting doing nothing, and we did times tables and fractions with them for a couple of hours. The sad thing is that they are desperate to learn, but there is no structure, nor consistency with their education. So naturally they love it when we come to the school, because we try to be as proactive as possible and actually take an interest in what they are doing, which is more than most of the teachers do.

Last night we went to the house warming party of some other volunteers, and then afterwards went on to Hippo’s. We were having a fantastic night, Lisa and Jen went home so it was just me and Kate from our house, with loads of others from the house party. Kate is from Bradford, she is 25 and a teacher, and she’s lovely. We had quite a lot to drink, and Kate and I established that we had more in common than we thought. By this I mean that we don’t like going to bed at nine every evening, which is what the rest of the house seems to do, and we would actually like to socialise a bit more. Kate shares a room with Lisa and Jen, and I share with Annette, and we tried to work out a plan to get Annette to swap with Kate, so that we could share a room. It makes sense because we have to get up earlier than the others to go to the school, and if we come in late we disturb our room mates. Not sure if it’ll actually happen or not though, because how do you say to some one, “I would rather share with some one else?” We also had a great time in trying to establish if the guy she likes is gay, and if not whether or not he is interested in her. Anyway, here comes the awful part.

We left Hippo’s at around twelve, and were walking up the road to get a taxi with Dave, who also lives in our house. He walked a little in front to try and flag a taxi, and Kate and I were walking together. For some reason, something made me turn around, and although it was dark and quiet, I knew some one was there, right behind Kate. I was about to open my mouth to tell her, when a man jumped her, knocked her to the ground and stole her bag. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. When she hit the floor and screamed, I ran forward in the dark yelling for Dave, and it seemed to me like an eternity before he reacted and turned around, although it could only have been seconds. At this point the man was running away, and Dave had to virtually drag me over to Kate, and told us to stay together, and ran after the guy. I panicked completely because I didn’t know what he wanted, and I suppose my immediate thought was that he might have attacked us in an attempt to hurt or rape, and I didn’t want Dave to go after him in case he wasn’t alone. When I got to Kate however she said he’d stolen her bag, and we just crouched together at the side of the road in silent fear, waiting for Dave to come back. I don’t think I’ve ever been so frightened or felt so vulnerable in my entire life. Anyway, Dave did come back, with more volunteers from the bar, and they sat with us until Greg came to pick us up. We both cried all the way home, and some more afterwards, and went and sat in the garden with cups of tea and tried to get over the shock of it. Kate is gutted that her camera was in the bag, so all her photos have gone, and when she went to the police station this morning there was little they could do. The main thing is that neither of us were harmed, just very shaken, and we’ve spent time talking about it this morning which I think has helped us both, and we’re definitely not going to let it stop us from enjoying the rest of our time here. Saying that, this afternoon I was at the orphanage, and just really didn’t want the kids all over me like they are, and to be honest I didn’t really make much of an effort to play games etc. I also received a lecture from the teenagers about why I should become a Christian and believe in God, and when I refused their offer of going to church on Sunday, they spoke in Nanja and all the younger ones went away, so I think they’re boycotting the muzungu devil woman. Oh well, right now I’m past caring. This is the most home sick I’ve felt all the time I’ve been here, and the thought of having to do it all again tomorrow just depresses me. I’m going to have dinner and then curl up with a book before bed and feel sorry for myself, and eat chocolate if they bring some back from the shop. Good plan!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Mischievous goats, jet boats, and washing the old fashioned way

Today is the first day since I’ve arrived that I’ve actually had the chance to lie in bed, and then potter around not doing much at all. The majority of people in the house have gone on safari to Chobi , but I was one of those who decided to give it a miss. Yesterday I went back to the orphanage in the morning, and did much the same as usual. I’ve adopted another little girl called Rebecca, who is so adorable and cute! She stayed with me all morning, paying no attention to the other volunteers, was obsessed with my rings and my hair, taught me more nanja, and at the end was delighted to find out I would be working at her school. I learned that her father had died, I presume from either aids or malaria, and that she lived with her mother. When I left she said, “I love you,” and I gave her a big cuddle and was tempted to try and fit her in my suitcase. Then in the afternoon we went straight from the orphanage to go jet boating, which was tiring, somewhat painful and hilariously funny. We had a long drive to reach the top of the gorge, and then had to get a cable car, and then had to climb down the side of the cliff, in order to reach the Zambezi river. We then spent around half an hour being sped along, through the rapids, so that the boat flew out of the water and crashed back down with the waves, taken under water falls and getting soaked, and getting spun around in the boat so fast that everyone crashed in to each other, which was the painful part. It was lots of fun, but by the end, after climbing up the cliffs again, I was exhausted, wet, dirty and realised I’d started my damn period, and so was anxious to get home and shower. It was the chef’s day off, so in the evening we all went out to Hippo’s for some food, which was delicious, and stayed for a couple of drinks.

This morning I was dying for a cup of tea, and so had one straight away, forgetting to take my malaria tablet first, resulting in me spending about an hour on the loo. I wasn’t sick though thank God. We also got up to discover that the goat that lives in the garden had gotten in to the house, and was preceding to eat everything it could find, which was hilarious! So far today I’ve been doing washing the old fashioned way, by hand in the sink, which was surprisingly therapeutic. The house is fairly quiet, and I’m sitting in the lounge, being harassed by cats who want to climb on my knee. This afternoon I think I’m going to read, and relax before the proper work starts tomorrow, and I have to be up at five thirty.

Friday, July 07, 2006


The past two days have been thoroughly amazing, and have summed up the reason I came to Africa in the first place, that is for the children. The past two mornings we went to watch them at their sports week, which to be honest was very boring, but the afternoons have come to life, and have evoked every emotion in me imaginable. Yesterday was my first proper time spent at the orphanage with the kids, and in truth I was quite nervous about the whole thing, not having had much experience working or playing with kids at all. Imagine this: all the volunteers in a big army truck going through the town. We reach the start of the townships, which are basically the poorest areas with the worst conditions. The kids on the street spot the truck and run along side it shouting, “Muzungu”, which means white people. The orphanage is quite a way in to the townships, so by the time we have got there the word has spread, there are dozens of kids running behind the truck, and dozens more going to tell their friends that the Muzungu have come. So at the orphanage there are loads gathered around, waiting for us to get down from the truck, and then about half an hour later when the word has got round, scores more arrive. What an experience! I honestly felt like royalty, and at the same time totally humbled at the fact that a tiny amount of our attention would make them so happy. When we first got there and they were all gathered around the truck, I did feel a bit awkward. I don’t really know how to interact with children, and where I’m confident in social situations with adults, I go in to my shell when I’m with kids, and I did that a bit yesterday when we first got there. It only lasted for about ten minutes though, because with these kids you don’t get the chance to be shy, and within half an hour I was sitting on the ground surrounded by little bodies and cradling a three month old baby in my arms. We spent three hours there, and in that space of time I received a lesson in Nanja, from the ones who could speak good English, became the new best friend of a twelve year old called Yvonne, learned several new games and tried to remember those I played as a child, and got as filthy but as elated as you could ever imagine. At one point I started up a game of ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’, and apparently I had the attention of the biggest group of kids ever at one time, and totally impressed the other volunteers, having just as much fun as the kids did in the process. All the kids took the fact that I can’t see in their stride, and took it upon themselves to guide me everywhere which was lovely, and one said at the end, “I’m very sorry that your eyes don’t work.” I came away feeling happy, sad, dumbfounded, privileged and totally honoured to have the chance to interact with them.

Today I got up looking forward to going, and felt a lot more confident about the whole thing. When I got down from the truck, several rushed forward to hold my hands, and when I called, ‘muli bwanji’, which is how are you, they all chorused in unison, ‘bwino!’. Today I had a little girl who wouldn’t let go of my hand, a little boy who climbed on my knee, wanted the biggest cuddles ever and refused to ever get down, wanting to be carried anywhere that I went, I was tickled, pinched, fort over, and had lots of dirty little hands constantly in my hair. It is no exaggeration when I say that the kids literally fight each other to get close to you, and when your hands and your lap are filled with kids, others walk with their hands on every available inch of you, just trying to get close. If they think one child has been cuddled too much, they forcibly remove him or her from your lap, and sit there themselves. Today I’ve had a child on each knee, one at my back, two either side, all with their little arms around me all at one time. Bare in mind that there can be up to fifteen volunteers there at a time, they all get the same treatment, so you can imagine just how many kids there are, just dying for a cuddle. It breaks my heart, and it makes my year to put my arms around a tiny body, or to feel a tiny hand slide in to mine, or to have a child wrap its arms around my neck and cling on for dear life. If I can do that for just one child every day, and believe me I get to do it for a lot more, then I have a reason to be in Africa. I can’t lie and say that it doesn’t tire me out, because they really just don’t leave you alone once they take a liking to you, and by the end I’m usually knackered and dying for a shower, but I love every second of it. They love playing games, and there is one in particular called knock knock, where we all make a circle and join hands, and you tap the persons hand next to you, going around the circle while singing, ‘Tuesday policeman wants to get a letter from you’. The persons hand that is tapped on the word ‘you’, then has to point at some one, and that person is out of the game. They always leave the Muzungu until last, and will play the game for hours on end. They are also fascinated with cameras, especially digital ones, and will take photos of anything. The only annoying part about today, was that there was a man, who was there simply to chat up the white women. From what I could gather, he had just wondered in off the street, and unfortunately took a fancy to me, much to my irritation. He came and sat next to me, and tried to monopolise any conversation I was having with the kids, and at one point was stroking my hair like they were. It was on the tip of my tongue to say, ‘you are not a black child who is fascinated with a white woman’s hair, so please take your hand off me’, but I didn’t, I just got really shitty with him, and told him that I was there for the children, not to talk to him. He then said he wanted to marry me, and I laughed in his face, and then turned my back and did my best to ignore him, wanker! Anyway never mind, I didn’t let it ruin my time there, and when I left I had to have about a million hugs from the kids before they would let me anywhere near the truck. I’m there again tomorrow morning, but then next week I’m teaching everyday and won’t be able to go until next Saturday! I wish I had a video camera so I could show the footage of them back home, it’s an experience you have to see to believe. I totally love it here and I can see why the project leaders chose to make a life out here doing what they do with the kids. Words can’t describe the way I feel, except to say that my heart is full.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Arriving in Africa and first impressions

We arrived at the airport bang on time which was good considering I couldn’t leave the house without checking I had everything at least twice. We got there about three hours before the flight so that I could spend some time with my parents and DL before I had to leave, and we spent most of the time in a restaurant sitting chatting. Poor DL was distraught and very tearful, and when I had to go we hugged for ages and I felt awful for leaving her. Apparently she had lots of cuddles from my mum and dad after I left so hopefully that made her feel better.

The flight was difficult as I had to make two changes, in Frankfurt and Johannesburg, and the main part of it lasted all through the night, so I took a nightol and tried to sleep, managing to get a couple of hours. I arrived in JHB with the awful feeling that my case would get stuck there, and wouldn’t make it on to the final flight to Livingstone, and when I arrived at Livingstone airport I found I was right. Consequently I didn’t get my luggage until yesterday, but I borrowed another woman’s clothes to sleep in so it wasn’t too bad. We were met by Greg at the airport, and he was warm and welcoming, and we were driven to the house in a people carrier type car, him explaining about the two different types of accommodation on the way. Half of us are staying here at the main house, and the other half are at a lodge down the road, and I’m very glad I ended up in the house, as I get on better with the people here, as most of them at the lodge are younger than I am. I’m sharing a room with a lady called Annette, who is fifty nine years old, smokes like a chimney and snores, but apart from that she is very amusing and lovely. The other girls in the house who I really get on with so far are Lisa, Jenny, Kate and Meg, the first three share a room and Meg is Greg’s sister.

Just had to stop to take a call from uncle Ian which was lovely, it’s so good to talk to people from back home, although surprisingly I’m not feeling homesick yet.

As soon as we arrived at the house on the Monday, we were given lunch, which was lovely. The chef has been stolen from a five star hotel, and so the food is absolutely out of this world. So far we’ve had home made pizza, which could have come straight from an Italian restaurant, beef stir fry and home made chicken Kiev amongst other things. That first afternoon we were given a general talk about African impact, and in the evening we went out to a local bar. I got hit on straight away by a local, and in the end I had to move seats because he just wouldn’t leave me in peace. That first night it took ages to get to sleep, being in a strange place and all, the beds are basic but surprisingly comfy.

Yesterday we were taken around the different projects, the schools, the clinics and the orphanage, where we had a chance to stop and have a look around. The kids just attach themselves to your hand straight away, and it really is quite moving and hard to leave. I can’t wait to work there on Saturday mornings. Yesterday afternoon we had a language lesson, and we were given a long list of phrases to try and learn, and also were taught a little about the culture and customs here. For instance, the majority are Christians, you look away from some one when you meet as a sign of respect, and people hold hands all the time, even if they are just friends. I also unpacked my suitcase and felt a lot better once I’d had a shower and made the room feel a bit more like home. In the evening I got a chance to speak to Lucy and mum properly, which settled me even more.

Today has been hilarious in one way or another. This morning when we were walking to look at Victoria Falls bridge, a baboon ran up to Jenny and stole her bag which contained biscuits. At the time it was quite scary as I was walking with her, but afterwards everyone was in fits. Then this afternoon we went on a mini safari, and watched elephants with their young, saw giraffes and buffalo, and had our photos taken standing right next to a rhinoceros. Then after dinner we were all talking about the huge spiders in the house, and Annette said there were three in our room. So I got quite freaked out and made her kill them. One of the volunteers, Adam, has hurt his foot and is using crutches, and the spiders were right near the ceiling, so Annette took a crutch and disappeared to kill them. Five minutes later Jenny, Kate, Lisa and I went to see how she was doing, and she had seriously massacred them all, and there was spider goo and blood and mess all over the wall. It was so funny, we were crying with laughter, and vowed not to tell the project leaders that we were massacring insects. We also have three cats here, one of whom is crazy, but we don’t intend to kill them. We also had the chance today to book some activities, I chose jet boating over white water rafting, an elephant backed safari, a lion walk on which I’m told you can cuddle them and everything, and I also want to go on a gorge swing above the falls, but I haven’t plucked up the courage to book that yet. I think I’ve remembered everything, I’ll try and write more each day so I don’t miss things out. Tomorrow and Friday it’s sports days at the schools, so we can’t teach and have to go and cheer the kids on, but we’d much rather go to the orphanage, so I think we’ll talk to Greg and try to sort something out. I’m off now to have a shower to rid myself of ants, mosquitoes and any other bugs that might have attached themselves to me, sorry it’s all so fragmented at the moment, I’m still taking everything in.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Zambia, Here I Come!

Well, just two hours to go until I have to leave for the airport. I'm so fucking nervous it's untrue. I've already been sick this morning, but I think that was more to do with the antimalarials than anything else. My case is packed, and I'm praying it's not over the 20 KG weight limit, although it probably is. My hand luggage is almost packed, just a few more things to go in there. DL has gone out to get petrol for the car, she isn't feeling too good either which is to be expected - I'm trusting that family and friends will take care of her emotionally while I'm gone. I just spoke to my mum, and had to forcefully tell her to stop the rest of the family descending on Manchester airport along with the parents, it'll be hard enough saying goodbye to them and DL without an entourage, bless them.

I'll try and post as much as I can while I'm over there, but the house doesn't have internet access, and obviously the computers in the internet cafe down the road won't have screne reading software, so I might have some difficulty. If so, expect a back log of posts when I get back. See you all soon, wish me luck!