21 October 2019

Hi All,

Here we are again in paradise (well sort of). An uneventful trip, all luggage arrived, met up with Edmund Cudlipp who had flown in with Ethiopian airlines via Addis Ababa to join me in Lilongwe. Only seven roadblocks, no trucks on the road due to a strike and an easy passage through 2 borders US $400 lighter for visas!! Shopping done and what joy, Edmund is an excellent BBQ cook so well fed and after 27 hours of travelling it was to our beds with a full day planned for our first day in the villages tomorrow.

TUESDAY 22/10.
On rising Edmund enthusiastically set to for breakfast and bingo the oven and plugs electrical breaker burnt out so no hot water for coffee and cooked breakfast TIA (this is Africa). The chief had requested we met the Deputy Provincial Secretary on my arrival so at 8 o’clock we lived in hope it would happen and not waste valuable time in the bush. Incredibly we were done and on the road by 9 after an interesting and possibly useful exchange of pleasantries.

Our first port of call was Makhasa village and the school project. I’m delighted with the progress and will report further as my visit proceeds.

Meeting the headmaster at Chambawa school.

Before meeting any of the orphans I wanted to see the headmasters of the schools our children attend and visited Chambawa and Kalembe primary schools. I’m constantly amazed at their wonderful resolve under the most trying of conditions. A full review of 19 orphans attending these two schools has now armed me with the latest information before tracking them down.

At Chambawa I found the school empty and on investigation learned that the couple of days before celebrating Zambia Independence Day (24/10) all the children with their teachers go into the communities to do jobs for the aged. We witnessed this happening at one of the grannies houses where she actually is guardian to 3 of our orphans. Water for her home is 2 kilometres away so all the girls, with water containers, were off to fetch water and the boys sent into the bush collecting firewood – we could learn a lesson from this. Two other orphan families visited and with sun’s heat at its highest it was back to base pretty wrung out. Into town to barter for 4 wheelbarrows, shovels and picks for the project and home for a cold beer. Oh no! The electricity had been off since 9 o’clock and the generator switched off.

A full day ahead tomorrow and Edmund should get his cooked breakfast – the electrician has been yippee and cold beer in the fridge. Goodnight.

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5 June 2019

Well that’s that, travellers. This team’s last day here in beautiful Zambia. We’ve been feeling very reflective, thinking back over what we set out to do, what we accomplished, and all the amazing, inspiring sights and sounds and people along the way. Looking further back as well, with Chris remembering the very first trip and first ‘spade in the ground’ all those years ago. This is the seventh year of operation now for Zoe, and over that time the friendships, hardships and achievements for this worthy cause, supporting the futures of charming Zambian children, have built up a genuine connection between the lovely people in our two hemispheres. This is evident in the very warm welcome we’ve all received (including the new visitors in the team) for being part of an organisation that is now so well known and loved in these parts. All in all we’ve been feeling very glad for the Zoe project and excited for the future. We hope you are too. The team are coming away with lots of notes, photographs and a plan of action for next steps – not to mention fantastic memories.

We’ve also discovered and learned lots on our adventures, and so wanted to share our top bush survival tips with you:

1. Bring gingernuts on any outing, especially with Stephen.
2. Follicle numbness is a thing, long periods of open windows and hair lashing around will do this to you. Bring a good hat.
3. It takes about 3 days to get your ‘sea legs’ on the bumpy roads, stick with it.
4. Always carry Ngwee (pennies) to stop for bananas.
5. Good bush picnics include peanut butter and said bananas.
6. Have a good driver (suggest Stephen or Caroline).
7. Know your reptiles and how to spot a Black Mamba slither pattern!
8. Look out for UFO’s (Uniformed Fleeing Orphans who should be at school).
9. Don’t bother looking for the North Star.
10. Must be home before dark for a sundowner.
11. If you need phone reception, stand on an anthill.
12. When the power cuts out for the 4th time in a day, it’s acceptable to barbecue pasta.
13. Watch out for falling snakes when walking under trees.
14. There are no tigers in Africa.
15. Regarding critters: where there’s one, there’s more and where there’s littleuns, there’s bigguns!
16. Flip flops can be made out of tyres, and they’re great for cornering.
17. A 4×4 is a big mistake, bring a helicopter.
18. Avoid eye contact with giraffes and spiders.
19. Only eat nshima with your right hand (google it).
20. If someone gives you a large quantity of peanuts, don a pair of rubber gloves to avoid shelling blisters.

PS. Please enjoy our end of trip out-takes, ones which didn’t make the cut!

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4 June 2019

The team were sung to sleep last night, by a chorus of hippos (or were they laughing, we’re not sure). This felt very much like home at Zoe House, Chipata, where we’re graced most evenings by the local dog chorus, as the lights start to fade – and at the off and on of every electricity blackout!

Unlike home however, we had a VERY early start this morning. 05:15 (Zambia time – 04:15 UK!) for a dawn drive, to catch more critters as they started stirring. It was a rather difficult task for the team to rise that early, but oh so worth it with the phenomenal Luangwa park on top form again. Impala, puku and baboons were out in force, and although we didn’t catch lions or leopards today (or tigers, who knew) we did see traces of big, catty pawprints along our path which were just magical. The landscape in Zambia is truly awesome, and it’s fantastic there are still these unspoiled places intact with such rich and wonderful variety of life. We’ve observed that it’s a little bit ironic that with our downtime from bouncing around in a jeep searching for children, we chose to bounce around in a jeep searching for leopards! But we all felt very lucky to be there and to see what we saw.

The team at Kafunta Safari were exceedingly hospitable to us as well. Knowing we were staying just one night they put on a very unusual lunch for us today, high up on a platform in a giant tree! From there we enjoyed table service with a backdrop of incredible views of the Luangwa river, utterly brimming with hippos. How splendid! We were joined by Stephen for this and it was a real treat to celebrate the last fortnight’s successes together in such a special way.

Driving back into town is a bit of a surreal feeling. More so than the drive in somehow, the stark change from the luxury of the tourist industry to the poverty of the local people is so quick, so clear and so sobering. Exactly the thing we needed perhaps, to get our heads back in the game for a very important meeting this afternoon – Stephen had lined up an audience with Chief M’nukwa.

We met the Chief at his home in Chipata, a handsome house fit with beautifully kept gardens and decoration, and the meeting went very well. The Chief seems satisfied with the progress Zoe is making for his people, and supportive of our activities – even to the point of suggesting areas for growth in the future. He explained Zoe is becoming somewhat of a household name in the local villages, known for the good things we’ve made happen; and among other organisations too, as an example of good practice and perseverance. Everyone involved can feel very proud of this!

We’re all starting to feel very sad to have to leave this lovely place, so hope to squeeze in as much more Zambia as we can manage on our last day tomorrow.

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3 June 2019

We have taken a day out to go the game park at Luangwa to take some rest and recreation. We are staying at Kafunta Lodge which looks out onto the banks of the Luangwa river bed which is about half a mile wide, mostly dry and sprinkled with animals.

When we arrived, we were walking to the accommodation when a snake fell out of a tree and landed on Caroline. She took this in her stride so we can only conclude that this sort of thing must happen all the time in Yateley. It turns out that Caroline is not scared of lions either, so we have agreed that if we are attacked by lions, Caroline will hold them off while Chris runs for help. Caroline is however afraid of frogs. She saw one in the river this afternoon and she is now a quivering wreck – green it was.

We went for a dip in the pool and a group of 15 giraffes wandered over. The collective noun for giraffes being a “Tower”. We soon became aware that they were watching us, and it is a rather surreal experience swimming whist being watched by giraffes. The thing is they don’t really say much. They just stand there silently not saying anything, just looking at you all sort of disapproving. We got out of the pool.

It turns out that sausages really do grow on trees. Here is a picture of Amy in front of a sausage tree to prove it.

We went for a game drive in the park and saw lots of animals. While we have been here in Zambia Stephen has been teaching us the African names of the animals. Chris has also been teaching us the gobbledegook names for them. So today in gobbledegook we have seen: Crocagators, Gyrafes, Hefalumps, Stripeyoss, Snort Hogs, Hitabottomus, and Leo-Pards. We have not yet seen any Lie-ins of Tiggers. During the drive we stopped by the river to admire a fabulous sunset.

We have held a competition among ourselves to produce the best selfie while we are here in the game park and you can judge the results for yourselves…


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2 June 2019

Our second Sunday in Chipata and the team are still energetic and raring to go! This morning we went to the service at The Central Chipata Evangelical Church and were treated to some more beautiful worship singing. After a bit of a shaky start with the instruments, the ladies in the worship team sang several beautiful songs and danced as if no one was watching. We really enjoyed this part and felt quite moved. After worship, we were introduced to a couple of people who are in Africa for ministry work; one of which is a Pastor from Canada and he gave a sermon which was pretty relevant to our team. The Pastor invited us to reflect on whether we are serving others even when the circumstances are risky, uncomfortable, inconvenient or maybe when we are just too busy. It was certainly a good reminder to us that no matter what is happening in our lives, it has been an incredibly important journey over here to spend time doing Zoe Zambia’s work. Each of us in the team has made changes to our lives in order to be here, but it has not felt like a sacrifice, more like a privilege to meet and spend time with people out here.

Two others that we met at the Church were Steve and Dylan from Operation Mobilization in Georgia USA, they are in Zambia doing a couple of months sports ministry work. After a few minutes talking to the boys, Chris mentioned that we had a large bag of football kit in the back of the truck. The boys were so dumbfounded that they launched a hug on Chris, much to his surprise! Isn’t it wonderful how Chris put the bag in the truck this morning as we weren’t sure what to do with it, and an opportunity landed at our feet?!

A very important part of our time here has been to meet with the school Head Teachers and talk through our orphans’ school report, which is given out at the end of each term. We have orphans in eight of the local schools, so we have bounced our way through the chiefdom during our trip and talked through the reports. There are some very smart children and it really is wonderful to see their reports, bearing in mind that they may never have had the opportunity of schooling without Zoe Zambia’s sponsors. We talk through reasons for bad attendance if the school reports reflect this and sadly this is quite often down to long term sickness. What comes through in these meetings is how familiar the Heads are with the students, especially considering the sizes of the classes which can be over 100 in each!

Whilst speaking with the Head Teachers we made a point of asking whether they were short of any resources. Hastily scribbled notes led to a shopping list and as you saw from our blog yesterday, we were able to pick up most of the supplies. We had to omit one request of an iPad from our list though! We took great pleasure in taking the afternoon today to visit as many schools as possible, delivering the goodie bags to the teachers. We weren’t quite aware of the Sunday afternoon footie game rule though and managed to interrupt one Head during a game, oops!

It was announced just a few days ago that the electric grid would be imposing a blackout for 4 hours each day, so yesterday Claire was hastily typing at speed to get you all the blog in time before we lost power! We hope it was appreciated! We have been given an idea of when the blackouts are going to be so at least we can plan around it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the team took the lack of power to take a rest, oh no, Caroline and Chris carried on writing reports and doing the accounts even in the dark. Dedication!

The major upside of the blackout is the STARS!! We all went outside to star gaze and Amy gave squeaks of joy when she realised The Plough was upside down to the way we see it in England, who knew?! ALSO, we couldn’t find the North Star and soon realised that it’s because we are in the Southern Hemisphere. Very interesting stuff!

It was whilst star gazing that Stephen revealed another of his ‘ology’s’ that he has studied. Honestly, Stephen is a wonder at how many subjects he has studied; Cosmology, Theology, Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Politics, Psychology, Agriculture, Crisis Management in a Refugee Camp, Agriculture and he also trained as a Priest before being pinched to do a very commendable job within the refugee camps of Mozambique. Stephen uses all of this when he is talking to and dealing with people across the Chiefdom and it’s pretty amazing to watch as he changes tact with each different person. It is such an honour for our team to work alongside Stephen as he injects little gems of philosophy and stories to our days. Stephen is also a very funny man and his laugh makes even the grumpiest person smile! We have had lots of jokes along the way and Stephen finds it very amusing as we try to make new names for different places on the map! It doesn’t seem to matter where we are, everyone knows Stephen. As we meander through the bumpy bush, people seem to appear out of the long grass shouting “Ngwira!” (his surname). Little children run after the car shouting “Ngwira” like the scene from Lord Of The Rings when Gandalf arrives at the Shire. Everyone knows Stephen and as such Zoe Zambia has an incredible presence here, which is wonderful!! We come towards the end of our trip here and we all feel very grateful that Stephen is such a major part of the team.

Tomorrow we are off to Kafunte River, which is a game reserve in the Mfuwe region, we are all very excited to see some large game and smaller creatures too. Chris is still holding out hope for a tiger…..

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1 June 2019

Today has been fun, and a bit more retail oriented!

We arrived at Chisongwe school (Chizzy Metals Forever!) at 9am to collect our star Zoe pupil who was being allowed out on a day pass with us.
We had a lovely morning in Chipata buying him some supplies he needed, and then taking him out for lunch. He was quite shy and quiet, and very polite and formal, especially as he was required by the school to remain in his school uniform of black suit, white shirt and bow tie! He seemed much more positive about this than we would have been about having to wear our uniforms on a Saturday when we were at school! He found our accents difficult to understand, so Stephen translated a lot, but he seemed to be talking more by the end of the trip!

Man about town

We started in the old town, which used to be called Fort Jameson back in the ’colonial days’, and visited a number of establishments to look for items including drawing materials, a calculator, a torch, and some clothes for him. It was a particularly busy shopping morning in Chipata as yesterday had been payday, and also Saturday is half day closing, with many shops packing up at 11.45 to shut at noon. There was plenty of visual entertainment just sitting and people watching. We saw a lot of white goods being loaded into the backs of vehicles for which carrying such an item was clearly going to be a challenge!
Claire was delighted that while Stephen was helping our pupil with clothes shopping, there was an opportunity for the girls to pop into the chitenge shop which had a stunning display. It left me reflecting on textiles being so abundant here, while so many other things are scarce.
After town was a quick trip to the supermarket for groceries for him to take back to school, and some sweeties! Then we went to a traditional nshima restaurant, and had a very filling and tasty lunch of nshima with side vegetable (cabbage), impwa which looked reassuringly similar to the impwa we cooked yesterday, and for the meat eaters there was a choice of bbq chicken, ‘village’ chicken (organic free range chicken in a delicious spicy gravy) , beef stew, or fish.  We still can’t quite believe that after devouring all that we drove straight to the ice cream parlour, quite a new attraction in the town, and managed to follow lunch with an ice cream cone! There were at least 20 flavours to choose from and as far as we can tell they are all good!

Just then Stephen got a message from the Head man from Makhasa village to say he was in town and had recognised Stephen’s vehicle in the car park, so we met up, and I then had one of the more surreal experiences of my life going in to the ice cream parlour with the Head man and purchasing him an ice cream cone! Unlike most of us he had no dilemma at all which flavour to choose so I suspect he has sampled them before!

Sadly it was then time to take our young man back to school, and on the way home we popped in to the Protea hotel for a cup of tea and to enjoy their restful surroundings with well tended gardens. This place has been a boon to have nearby in the past, for example as a source of wifi back in the days when we did not have it at Zoe House. It was good to see it all still looking good there. There was lots of discussion over tea and coffee about what we have done on this visit and what needs doing next, both here and when we get home.

Back to the house and despite feeling pretty full we decided to cook something for later, because from today it has been announced that the electricity is going to be off at intervals of 4 hours every day, at different times for different areas. Helpfully, a rota has been published showing which area is having its power cut when. Today we are having no electricity from 18:00 to 22:00, so we are going to BBQ some sausages and have a side salad, but got the jacket spuds done early! LOTS of food today!

With that I will sign off as it is time for a sundowner, and of course sending this blog entry in before the electricity goes off!

Nshima eaten total per person=3.
Word for the day: chona =cat
Wildlife photo of the day – we found him on the bedroom ceiling last night. We sent a photo to Chris’ nephew, who is a zoology student, and he came straight back with the Latin name:
Hemidactylus frenatus, but Caroline has decided to call him Bob. He is also known as a common house lizard apparently, so Chris is talking to him in Cockney rhyming slang or just ‘oy!’
We understand that the UK is enjoying a heatwave of 32C while we are cool and comfortable here at 23C! The only thing keeping us awake at night is the ‘dog chorus’ every night as many neighbours have dogs and when one has something to say they all join in!

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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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