Monday, 27 July 2009

A Merzonger In Zambia - Days 5-11

The last 7 days have been crazy busy and I have so much to report back on!

Sunday can only be described as a real insight into Zambian lifestyle and popular culture. Following on from the last entry, after we experienced the harrastment and gulf in deprevation from the Culture and then City Markets, we were treated to a real Zambian meal by Vince who is working with Sport In Action.

He served up shima (the solidifed porridge which makes any Zambian's staple diet) along with various other dishes which all defied appearances and were very very tasty. My personal favourite could best be described as sweet potato mixed with peanut butter! Tasted beautiful.

Monday was the first of two induction days for us. The days were hosted by the two NGOs the sport students will be going on placements for, and I will be raising their profiles across Zambia. Presentations were given (5 days too late) into health and saftey and a brief description of culture. A test at the end illustrated how well the students really knew Zambia.

Considering the prevelence of HIV and Aids in Zambia, it was perhaps a shock to learn that 46% of school children have an indepth knowledge of the danger of unprotected sex. However, importantly, it is the blief of EduSport and Sport In Action (who work in partnership) - that this is 64% not enough.

In the afternoon, the students split into the two groups that they would be working in. I went with the EduSport students and engaged in Zambian games for most the afternoon with the current Zambian peer leaders working for EduSport. This is something I will not be reporting back to the newspapers I am sending blogs to, but basically, the peer leaders are so amazing, I fail to see how valued the Wallace Group's involvement can help them develop - when really it should be the other way round. The peer leaders work with school children playing different games and sports as voluteers and the children absolutly love them - and hang on every word. Most of the other students feel the same - but we've been assured that our input cannot be valued highly enough in terms of the joy the kids get - and seeing things from a different perspective.

One thing that really strikes me is the wisdom and deep knowledge that all those involved with the NGOs possess. They really have a great unity which binds their beliefs together for a better future. They look beyond the surface of life and examine how we can all become better people which is really inspiring. I have so much respect for every single one of them who hardly have anything themselves to give so much back to the children for nothing but good karma and morale satification in return.

The induction was completed on Tuesday when we all jumped onto a truck and visited all the sites the students would be coaching at. Travelling through the streets of Lusaka offered a real insight into the varities Lusaka has to offer as well as exposing the poverty and prevelence. Travelling through the slums was truely shocking.

I met two young ladies from a local Catholic Radio Station who present a kids programme. They have offered me the chance to visit them and the station despite the fact I wasn't able to avoid the topic of religion and my own beliefs.

I also met Sera who stole my camera for the remainer of the trip and took photos. It was probably just as well as in some places of Lusaka, locals can get very agiatred by Muzungos (which is actually how you spell Merzonger - me being the idiot I am) taskng photos as they believe you are exploiting their situations for photo opportunities back home.

Although English is the offical language of Zambia, there are 73 dialects across the 7 provinces of Zambia and English is in actual fact every Zambian's second language. Many of them speak very good English but in most cases the language barrier is often very complicated to cross.

It seems strange that many Zambians have modern technologies such as TVs, CD players and even Ipods yet the infastructure is so poor. In the slums you can see TV aerials out the top of tiny buildings and in the really really remote rural parts of Zambia which are full of subsistence farmers, mud huts advertise Zain (the major mobile phone company) top up cards for sale.

The truck visit and ride was really enjoyable and it was really good to meet and get to know who carries out EduSport and Sport in Action's philosphies.

On Wednesday I got to meet Patrick who will be the man I will be working with to help improve EduSport's profile. For EduSport for the next few weeks I'll be improving their website, helping them with their partner's (Go Sisters, aimed at equal opportunities and empowerment for ladies) newsletter and advertising and promoting an upcoming football tournement they have arrange which aims to increase knowledge of HIV/AIDS.

In the afternoon I went out to Kalingalinga where Kelch lives. Kelch is one of the main guys at EduSport and we had met at the induction weekend in Durham. He's a really really good guy and I think he's probably the coolest guy I've met. His hunger for knowledge and that that he already possesses is astonishing. He's the wisest guy in the world and the slightly sickening thing is that he's only 15. Everyone in Zambia looks and more importantly acts, a whole lot older.

Hayley and Rachael are doing their placements at schools in Kalinglinga and I went along to take some pictures of the area and help out with some of their sessions. I joined in with the current U16 Zambian champion football team from Lusaka's training and looked so out my depth at times it was unreal. Admittedly I'm not very good at football by any means, but I'm 3 years older and have played a lot of football over the years - these guys were a different class. Most play in barefeet and their first touch is unbelievablely good. They proved that you don't need quality equipment to be all you can. I also joined in the girl's netball session and thoroughly enjoyed it! This was the only day of placement before the start of the next week as on Thursday we set off for a long team building weekend in Livingstone.

We left Lusaka fairly early in the morning and after an 8 hour trip arrived in Livingstone, named after the Scottish Doctor David Livingstone who was the first western man to discover the Victoria falls whilst looking for the source of the river Nile. The trip went quite quickly really and were in the much more tourist orinetated Livingstone to check into Jollyboys, the world's best bagpackers (apparently). It was really nice and had a very much western set up. Food was good and beer was cheap! Because we had made the trip in good time we were there in time to see the sun set over Victoria Falls (one of the 7 wonders of the world and Livingstone's major selling point). We all got some amazing photos. Despite decling sales world wide, Cooper is still Zambia's main export and source of income, however, the Victoria falls offers a huge incentive for tourists across the world and is set up well to make the most of this.

When we got back to the hostel we had a few beers and a very nice chicken vindaloo before getting an early night for an early start the next day. On the Friday, most of us had signed up for White Water Rafting down the River Zambezi, which is where the falls pour into. The names of some of the rapids was highly offputting an not for the faint hearted. Amongst some of the names there was the 3 ugly sisters, the mother and the Terminator 1 and 2. Our group was all in one raft with our guide who we nicknamed T-Pain - we then duly starting singing "I'm on a Boat at" the top of our voices for an Air3 folk reading. It was great banter and had a really high team morale despite capsizing on one of the rapids and myself and Amanda having to be rescued by another boat after we were taking miles away from our own raft. It is quite scary when it happens, especially if you get stuck underneath the raft! After the trip, we were taken back and offered complimentary lunch and drinks during the ride back to the lodge. Good times all round! Theres nothing quite liking driving through rural Africa with a bottle of Mosi (Zambia's finest beer).

After the whole experience we had booked ourselves up for the Booze Cruise - which is as bad as it sounds I'm afraid. We had all paid a certain amount of money to drink and eat all we wanted during a lovely boat trip down the Zambezi. University students and alchol is never a good combination and there were a few casulties. I was fortunate to survive the experience and live to tell some fine tales from a thoroughly enjoyable day! During the rafting previously, I had talked up a good deal with some of the guides for a pair of their work shorts which were really snazzy green Rivwer Zambezi swim trunks. We could either buy from the company for $35 US Dollars or $20 from them - needless to stay they dropped off at Jolly Boys are the booze cruise to make a canny profit! There was however some elements from the day I do forget I'll be honest.

Getting up the next day for an all day Safari in Botswana was a struggle, especially considering the early start but so worth it. It was an hours drive to the ferry which took us to the location of Alexander McCall Smith's novels "The Lady's Dectective Agency". We then got some handome looking stamps on our passports and continued through to a lodge and some a spot of light breakfast which was all very elegant. We were then introduced to our driver and guide for the day Jacko (obviously debately "nicknamed" 'Wacko Jacko'). He certainly was wacky. We saw a whole group of Elephants who were taking a wash in one of the rivers and although they look fairly chilled out, can be quite agressive when their terrority is invaded. We got very close to the group and some started to get a bit touchy when Jacko, rather than defusing the potentionally dangerous situation by driving away, descided to just turn off the engine which was really scared a couple of the girls but with the benefit of hindsight was very very funny really. It pretty much summed up African's relaxed chilled back approach perfectly.

During the Safari we also saw Gifarres, Hippos, Rhinos, Warthogs and Buffalos before we were taken on another boat down the river to have lunch and go Crocodile, Elephant and Hippo spotting. We were successful and got fairly close to a hippo which is the world's most dangerous animal in terms of how many humans they have eaten. It was a really good day and we concluded the days activies with dinner at the Pub and Grill back in Livingstone. I had Steak and Shima which was really nice before heading to bed to prepare for another early start.

The first half of Sunday was possible the craziest most daring 7/8 hours of my life. Some of us had signed up for the breakfast meal deal. We were taken up to the Livingstone Royal which is a 5 star hotel in Livingstone and from there were taken by power boat to the very height and pinnacle of the Victoria Falls. We were given a brief history of the falls before just casually walking across the top of it where a slight slip could have made things very interesting! We were then allowed to be taken to the very very edge of the falls and to look down at the monsterous sight. It was an incredible sight and experience that photos could never capture. We were then treated to a beautiful breakfast over the falls. We had coffee and muffins before a delicious eggs benedict. After we were taken back to the hotel and almost back on the bus, we were surrounding by a huge herd of Zebras and Gifarres which were just casually walking around the place in a fairly noncholent manner which was almost better than the safari!

As if standing on the edge of the Victoria falls wasn't daring enough, I had then signed up to do a bunjee jump over the Livingstone bridge which connects Zambia and Zimbawe. It was craziness and I didn't want to do it - but deep down knew that it was 100% safe and also knew that this was a once in a life time opportunity and something I wanted to say I had done. I went with Kerry our staff member and without her probably wouldn't have done it. We had planned to do a tandem jump so it wouldn't be quite as daunting (if that's possible when looking down a 1100 metre fall) however I was too heavy and had to do it by myself. I managed to pluck up the courage and actually felt fine until I jumped and actually looked down - it was the single most scariest moment of my life because it goes against everything in human nature! I was so glad when it was over and don't think I would ever go it again but am glad to say I've done it and have the photo evidence which I'll get posted tomorrow hopefully.

After the jump, we handed back to Lusaka where a new suprise awaited us - but that's for the next blog I feel! Overall - even if the placements ended tomorrow - the stories I have from Zambia are near endless and this has been the most incredible time of my life which I'm loving every second of. Until next time!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Merzonger In Zambia - Days Three and Four

Although we are only into the fourth day of what will be an epic 5 and a half weeks - I'd been over the moon with the insight and experience I've gathered already. Although the days seem to be getting cooler and cooler (and it's strange to hear, but I'm wearing a woolyhat and Africa) things seem to be getting more surreal.

Yesterday was absolutely amazing. We got a bus from our house to Chilingalinga to visit one of the Netball teams that Noami coaches every week during her time out here. Their opponents had failed to show so a game was on between the merzonger voluteers and the best Chilingalinga had to offer. Although we looked to be plain sailing at 3-1 at half time, a strong comeback from the home side saw them take a lot of pride and excitement away from the game. They played very well. All the community rocked up to witness the event as they do every week. We stuck around to talk to the locals and there was a lot of hand shakes and photos. Everyone is very welcoming and so friendly.

We then hopped back onto the bus and headed out on a 2 hour trip to a place whose name i've forgotten the name of. However, it was a very long ride but the spirit was high and there was some good team bonding with games, songs and jokes. We were heading out there to watch a basketball tournament which had been set up by one of the NGOs us voluteers were fullfilling placements for, Sport In Action.

On the way, we stopped to get some petrol and we all got out for some snacks and a few suprises as whilst on my way back to the bus I noticed one of the lads Charles in a bit of a bother. On our first day in Zambia, we were told it was pretty much acceptable to go to the toilet anywhere - however, apparently not against the side of a security guard's hut - who had found him and consequently threatened to pay either 500,000 kwata or go to jail. Oh and he said all this whilst stroking a rifle. Our two staff members Noami and Rona manged to blag him free by preending to phone the British Embassy and assuring him that everyone in Britain goes to the toilet anywhere they want and Charles was just naive. Eventually it worked and we were back on the road, however, it was all rather farcial but potentially was very serious! It definately went in Gabby's fine book which holds all the team's embarrassing moments for which they will pay come a drinking night!

We got to the site of the tournement. Some of the talent on show was very good and it was a very strong and tight competition. The night before we had heard a catchy song in a traditional Zambian restaruant which we had been the Zambian number 1 'Well Well Well' by 'Danny Crazy' who is apparently the hottest thing in Zambia right now. Anyway, after the games, he appeared and played a couple of songs. It was brilliant and so strange from what we would expect from a national star in brilliant. All the kids were loving it and he performed on the basketball court where the children just naturally formed a line from where they couldn't go further. He had 3 backing dancers who were very very good and some of the crowd got over excited at times and couldn't resist going onto the stage and start dirty dancing with the stars! One particular lady was then wrestled to the ground and humped by one of the dancers - it was hilarious. Danny Crazy then got a little boy out of the audience to dance and the kid was tipped by members of the audience. One of group, Rachael then got up to tip the lad and was then practically stolen by Danny Crazy who she danced with on the court for a bit! The locals also loved the merzongers attempting to dance!

After his performance we headed off and went to fill up with petrol for the trip back when who did we come across? Danny Crazy! He was only to happy to detach himself from some groupies and meet and greet and then have his photo taken AND then invite us all to star in his music video next thursday! Unfortunately though, we will be in Livingstone on Thursday. It was such a random day - I've got some awesome pictures! It was Crazy - a poor pun intended!

We came back and had tuna and pasta and played Spoons and Uno for a good few hours to round up what had been an amazing day.

Today was slightly less eventful but still an amazing insight. We came out to the markets at Arcade, which is a mall type area where many of the more wealthy Zambians and merzongers hang out. It's got your usual cinema with all the latest releases, music shops, book stores and places to eat. The big shop out here is the Spar!

The markets were certainly different. Everyone is selling fairly similar products, but you can be assured they are all lying about it's originals and are just desperate for a sale. I bought some Zambian shorts, a couple of necklasses and some traditional bracelet things. We then went to a slightly more authentic and true to Zambia market where we are almost mobbed as soon as your monzongen face appears - you've got to be careful to watch your pockets but although you know many of the locals have alternative motives for being so friendly - they are still very welcoming and will shake your hand and ask you about where you live etc.

I'm getting used to everyone staring at you for being a merzonger. Apparently a merzonger isn't just a white person, but could be used to describe someone who is simply westernised and wears European or American clothes.

Tomorrow we are getting on the back of a truck and checking out all the compounds the group will be going to on their placements. The trip is around 3 hours.

Zambia is brilliant ! Will have some photos to show you all soon !

Friday, 17 July 2009

A Merzonger In Zambia - Days One & Two

Yesterday was probably the longest day of my life. I am writing this from an Internet cafe in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia - and I love it. We've only been here just over 30 hours - but the place is incredible. I will start at the beginning.

My parents drove me to Heathrow Terminal 5 (in typical Jenko fashion with plenty of time to spare) and met up with John who was in my group. Having said farewell to my parents we grabbed a coffee before meeting up with the rest of Group 2: Hayley, Kym, Rachael, Kerry, Charles, Tim, Gabby and Amanda. We then lounged around terminal 5 before I spotted someone who looked strangely familar. I eventually placed their face and realised it was Tel Ben Haim who plays for Manchester City. Having done some celeb stalking with John and Charles I realised the whole team were here before departing for their pre season tour. Amongst the other famous players I'd seen on Match Of The Day on a regular basis were Craig Bellamy (boo hiss), Shay Given and Petrov who was purchasing a pack of Cherry Drops from WH Smith.

We boarded the flight and were all dispersed throughout the plane. I was sitting next to Charles (the Chief) and a Zambian girl who was studying in London called Grace. After a short delay we set off for Lusaka. There was a fine selection of films which will hopefully keep me busy upon return to sunny sunny Essex whilst I did watch 17 Again and He's Not That Into You.

The flight was good except I didn't sleep much and consequently was very tired throughout yesterday. We touched down at Lusaka airport (which is tiny and wasn't expecting another arrival for 6 hours) at 7 in the morning. We were warmly greeted by the two permanent staff members looking out for us during all 3 groups placements, Rona, who I knew very well from Stirling and Naomi, from Durham Uni. Also there to meet us was George, who is a prominent member of EduSport, one of the two NGOs the Sport Students will be working for, Freda who is the housemaid and very nice and John who is Rona's boyfriend who'd I'd met a couple of times previously. He is a Photography student from Edinburgh Napia who had promised to help me improve my own photography.

The house we are staying in is grand. Apparently the house the last group were staying in for 4/5ths of their stay was a disaster and didn't have hot running water and had cockroaches and ants roaming around the kitchen in a fairly noncholant manner. Seemingly it was disguisting and in comparison, we are staying in a palace. It's very very nice and our group is getting on like a house on fire which is better than can be expected of a group of teenage early 20 students from different Universities across Britain.

OK so a little more about Zambia - it's completely different to anything I've ever experienced in my life. Firstly, there is very little concept of quening - which I found to be very annoying today getting food! Secondly, a Merzonger is a term for a white person, which gets shouted at you a lot, not in a deeming manner, but there are just stating a fact as it's fairly rare for white people and tourists to be visiting the slums and compounds of Lusaka. Everyone is very very friendly and will often just make conversation with you because you are white. Everyone dresses very smartly aswell, regardless of whether they are employed or not. Because 80% are without fixed employment, people will often offer you a price for a lift to save you getting a taxi and simply honk your horn to know if you are interested.

I had a surreal experience when getting charcoal yesterday for a BBQ we were having. There was about 6 of us who went and we went at around 5.50 and headed just up a few meangdering roads before finding something which could only be described as chaos by myself, it was almost a different world. Tiny streets are packed with people on either side trying to sell you (at an inflated price when they assume because you are a merzonger you are rich) an array of foods we would never imagine eating including rats amongst others!

But what made the whole experience so surreal was the fact all eyes are on you. I've discovered there are usually two reactions to a merzonger in such a remote part of Lusaka and that is either of suspicion or that of delight and suprise. Everyone of the second reactions sparks near hilaritiy and smiles - it's so very very strange to experience that. What you're feeling is very hard to describe because I don't think there is a word for it, but perhaps overwhelmed is the nearest fit to summing it all up. Kids will follow you for miles simply to see you. Some kids will often dare others to touch the Merzonger to see what happens! Whats strange is there was this whole little world just a 5 minute walk away from where we were staying.

After I brought a bag of charcoal back us lads spent a good 30 minutes trying to emulate the success of cave men by creating fire - needless to say, it was a fairly epic failure. Eventually however, we did, but not without the help of deorderant and 4 other able hands and minds. It was a good barby. Everyone was shattered and although we had promisied ourselves to make a real night of it - we found ourselves putting up our mossie nets at 10.30 to settle in for the night - let me tell you that process is a lot harder than it sounds and we eventually got into our sleeping bags at around 11.

Today we got up, had a spot of breakfast and came into town to visit the two NGO offices (EduSport and Sport In Action). We did so and Celvin (one of the peer leaders at EduSport, who acts like a real gent and a proper man, but in actual fact is only 15 - he's a legend!) said we should visit one of the compounds that one of the pairs will be working throughout their placement. We hitched a lift on the back of a 4x4 open ended truck. Let me tell you that would not be allowed by any stretch of the imagination back home. The sight would have been funny for a local - 15 merzongers cramped on the back of this truck. Anyway, the truck took us through the streets of Lusaka and we gathered a first hand experience of the lifestyle, culture and ways of livivng. The school we visited went crazy to see us and rushed out their classes to say hello. I took some pictures and they knew the sketch of posing. What's funny is what they loved more was seeing it again and they all had a look and laughed at the technology and photo - it was incredible. We went through the slums and met some other peer leaders Moses and Sikiwu who told me she wants to go on and study journalism at Windsor, which is a local college.

We played football and spoke to many of the children in the vast stretches of dust that the children had adopted as playing grounds. They were all very outgoing and more than happy to say hello and wave to us all. Some however, were slightly more shy! Since then we've had some lunch and now I'm writing this blog up. I need to keep this blog updated because we are going to be doing and experiencing so much and so much varity that I will need to remind myself of everything before I forget it all. As the media student, there have already been a number of possible opportunities like seeing the TV Stations and writing for the two NGOs. It is very promising and exciting and some of the photos I've gathered after just 30 hours are incredible. I'm so syched to get started on the project!

Tonight we are going to soak up some traditional Zambian food at a local lesiure resort and taste the local Zambian beers. If the rest of the project is half as good as the first day and a half - then it's going to be the best time of my life.

Signing off - a Merzonger in Zambia.

Peace and love !