31 May 2019

The team split up today and Chris and Stephen picked up the Head of the District Education Board (DEBs) and her Buildings Officer and a water diviner and went up to meet the Headman at Makhaza village to talk about the proposed new school. A grant of land has been made by the Chief and we walked the site together. The Buildings Officer was checking to see if the land was sufficient and suitable for the purpose, and we discussed John’s sketch plan of how the school might be laid out on the site. DEBs were happy with the proposals and with the site, and we discussed how this construction might be commissioned with the Headman. The community will play a significant part in creating the new school buildings including bringing sand and crushed stones from the riverbed to make the concrete.

Water will also be key to this new school project as there will need to be toilets and hand washing facilities – hence the need for a water diviner. Water divining is a mysterious thing somewhere between an art and a science. The diviner walks about the site carrying two L shaped rods made from brass, and where they suddenly come together in his hands this indicates the presence of water below the ground. The name ‘diviner’ suggests there is something godly about whether or not water can be found, and of course God turned up, and we have found water in exactly the spot that John indicated on his sketch plan of the site – Brilliant! Chris had a go with the diviner’s rods and sure enough they came together in the same place that the diviner had indicated. Chris basically does the same thing when planning new schools in the UK but instead of using brass rods to find water he just sends an email to the water authority! The diviner also runs a mobile drilling rig and we are obtaining a quotation to drill something like 55m into the ground to tap into the aquafer to make a borehole. A high-level tank with a solar powered pump will provide a gravity fed water supply to the proposed new school.

There and back, Chris tackled “Ginger Nut Crossing” as we’re now calling it. This being the point where road meets river along the way between the main road and Mercers’ preschool, and where Stephen had once opted to eat a biscuit rather than change gear half-way up the riverbank, much to the panic of his passengers. We thought we’d try to mark this little legend of ours, having discovered that it’s not just the Zoe team using the name Victoria Road but the local Africans as well!

Meanwhile across town, the girls had been enjoying a change of pace with a shopping trip, kindly escorted by Stephen’s wife Rachael. This was in part for the local colour, particularly being Amy and Caroline’s first time in Zambia. But also armed with a list from the headteachers of our linked schools, of bits and bobs we could helpfully top them up on. At a bookshop we picked up learning topics posters, globes, an ink pad for an official school stamp, and chalk for the chalkboards. And at the supermarket, another football for Mr Kunga’s budding team. After that the girls hit the market.

Arriving through a narrow and unassuming alleyway, it opens up to a broad and bustling street packed with stalls and little shops, selling all sorts of unexpected things. The girls spotted some unusual fruits and vegetables, including yams, pawpaws, rambutans, even peachy-soft green baobab fruits, and the famous dried fish (“kapenta”) and dried caterpillars (“mapani worms”) that for the locals, make a tasty snack! We weren’t that brave, but did pick up pumpkin leaves and “impwa” (tiny white aubergines – the name ‘eggplant’ finally fits!) with the promise of a lesson from Rachael later that evening to learn authentic Zambian cooking. Beyond the food stuffs, you could pick up more or less everything under the sun, from baby clothes to bicycle parts, and fascinating wax and pigments for polishing and decorating floors. Amy, Caroline and Claire picked up spices, hand-carved wooden spoons and traditional Chitenge fabrics each. Back at the house and reunited with Chris, this sparked an impromptu fashion show, and fits of giggles from Stephen’s daughter Jacinta when we asked them to take our photo. Whatever could she have been laughing at? It’s a mystery!

Fashion show …

Feeling thoroughly refreshed, this afternoon we visited a workshop in Chipata that makes furniture, including desks for schools. They make a two-seat school desk with integral bench constructed with a steel frame and a wooden top and bench seat seen here being modelled by Chris and Amy. Caroline successfully negotiated a discount with the firm’s accountant if we ordered enough desks to equip the first three classrooms together as a single purchase and this will only cost a little over £2,000. We are open for donations to buy these.

Stephen then took us to see a few more local sights, driving through some parts of the town with amazing views of the countryside, and stopping by the “Martin Phiri Visual Arts Centre”. Being a fan of arts, Amy was enthralled by the curiosities inside, created by a variety of local artists who paint, sculpt, carve, make hats and bags and musical instruments, and everything was for sale. While Caroline took the opportunity to tool up with a couple of ‘Katemo’ axes — the rest of us are trying to stay on her good side from now on!

Chris has been talking about seeing the lions and tigers in Africa for some time and Claire goes to great lengths to explain that there are no tigers in Africa – but today Chris has actually seen one!

In the evening we got our lesson in Zambian cooking with those exciting new ingredients. Rachael patiently walked us through the preparation of three dishes; the pumpkin leaves, the impwa and nshima to go alongside. Rachael’s top tip was to choose only the most tender, young pumpkin leaves, and to peel the stringy outer structure from the stems (a bit like you can with celery). This is steamed down with tomatoes, onion and powdered groundnuts and tastes a lot like a rich spinach or chard. The impwa on the other hand we quartered and fried with tomato and onion until transparent. Nshima is a bit trickier! You must heat water not quite to boiling point, and add maize meal to a thin porridge consistency, then cover and let it bubble. After a bit of that, add more maize meal until it’s nice and thick, and then battle with it (no other way to describe!) using a long flat spoon, stirring until smooth and firm. The team had all this with roasted quail and it was absolutely delicious! We’re all looking forward to bringing these amazing new tastes and techniques to our families back home.

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