Mongu, West Zambia
On day 1 of my solo travels, I was headed for Mongu, West Zambia. The reason I was heading to Mongu was as follows: as some of you may know, I have a great aunt Sr Mary Greene, my nana's sister, who is a nun in San Antonio, Texas. She is part of a group of sisters who have missions all over the world, including Mexico (I have already visited them) and Zambia. So when I mentioned I was going to Zambia, the sisters told me about their projects for orphans of HIV/AIDS victims which I thought could be interesting to see. So I got in touch with Sr Christina Mitchell who is one of the sisters living in Mongu, West Zambia. She was delighted to hear I would be visiting so I told her my travel plans and arranged to visit after my trip to Victoria Falls. And that's how the story goes !
So I started my journey west by heading back towards the baboon infested Zimbabwe Zambia border. I took a taxi to the Zimbabwe immigration office and from there I actually braved it and decided to walk the 3km across the border as it takes you
across the bridge and you get a beautiful view of the falls. You can even watch the crazy people do the bungee jumps. Luckily I didn't get attacked by baboons and arrived safely on the other side. I had the joy of handing over my passport to the Zambia immigration officials with no dollar and gladly received my stamp. I then jumped in another taxi and went to stay in a hostel in Livingstone until the bus was due to depart the next day.
I spent the day and night in Livingstone making travel plans, buying my bus ticket and wandering around the town and checking out it's various markets and restaurants. When I was buying my bus ticket, the salesman was doing the newspaper crossword and asked for help with some of the words. Now was the time I needed my Nana! I did my best with a few but some I couldn't manage. So I messaged Meredith and Catherine (crossword pros) who saved the day! The salesman was totes pleased to complete his crossword !
The next morning I was picked up by a taxi at 4am and taken to the bus station for my 5am
bus. Here in south east Africa you have to board the bus 30minutes before departure. Otherwise somebody will sit in your reserved seat. And since I'd reserved a seat at the front like a loser, I wanted to make good time. It was going to be a long bus ride - about 12 hours..and the bus was full. This was no Caprice! The journey started off fine - the road was good and there were no delays. But as soon as we got to Kazungula, the road was terrible. I mean, it was ridiculous. There were huge potholes everywhere and the bus even had to go off road as this was a better option than the road itself ! We probably went at a speed of 10km/hr for a good couple of hours. Even my pillow couldn't give me much comfort with the bus rocking from side to side, my head bashing either the window or the very nice woman next to me. Finally we got to Sesheke and the woman next to me got off as it was her stop. I also got off, but just to go to the toilet and get some food. The toilet facility was
interesting ... it was in a sort of motel room with no door, the toilet had no door either. Great. I was too desperate to worry about it so I just braved it in the hope that nobody would happen to walk past. They didn't. Phew. Next was to wash hands. There was a woman with a bucket of some not-so-clean looking water and a bar of soap. So I attempted to thoroughly wash my hands before venturing off in the search of food....I found a dude on the roadside selling freshly (or so I thought) fried chips. I ate them speedily - I was hungry! Later that evening I developed my first poorly tummy of the trip. Whether it was the unclean looking water, or the chips, or both, I'll never know.....anyway I got back on the bus and now had two seats to myself so I was able to get my head down. The road between Sesheke and Mongu was good so it was much smoother for the last part of the journey. When I arrived in Mongu about 3pm, Sr Christina was there to meet me ! 😊 she drove us back to the house in her
The girls at work
Philomena, Namunji, Sr Angela and Matilda
jeep where I met Sr Matilda from north Zambia and Matilda, Philomena and Namunji, the 3 pre-novices. Trainee nuns, if you like. They were all very welcoming and had open cheese and tomato toasties and a pot of tea waiting for us on arrival 😊 we all chatted and got to know each other and they had lots of questions about my journey so far. Then at 5.30pm it was prayer time!
I went to go and stretch my legs and explore. The house was set behind mahogany coloured walls surrounded by colourful shrubs. Inside the grounds were lots of fruit trees lined along the drive as well as in the back garden. There was a chicken pen and also a few dogs and cats wandering around the place. It all felt welcoming and homely.
Later that evening we had a delicious dinner of fried spinach, refried beans and buhobe. Buhobe is a staple in the diet in Zambia. It's also a staple in other parts of Africa, they just call it a different name. For example in Malawi, they call it nsiema. Basically, it's maize flour cooked to make a sort of thick, carb loaded mass. It
looks a bit like mashed potato, but more stodgy. They normally eat it with their hands and it's great for soaking up the sauces and juices of the main meal. It doesn't sound very tasty, but it actually really is. After dinner I helped the girls (the pre-novices) with washing up and it turned into a bit of a mini clinic session with them giving me all their ailments. But they were quite funny about it, joking with each other, saying that one had gonorrhoea, the other had syphilis. They were actually jokes. Then we all sat in the living room and read or watched tv and chilled. There were bedtime prayers at 8.30pm after which there is no talking allowed. Pure silence. It was quite peaceful actually. I went to bed soon afterwards as I was tired after my journey. I had my own en-suite room which was a bit of a luxury after the last few weeks of camping!
The next morning I took it easy as my stomach was still playing up so I had to be near a toilet at all times!! I read a bit of 'Purple Hibiscus' by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Rachel
Gerlis recommendation, and definitely worth a read. I also attempted to learn some Lozi, the language of west Zambia. Breakfast was samp which is a South African food consisting of dried corn kernels that have been stamped and chopped until broken. It is normally eaten with ground nuts and is very tasty and nutritious. Then we had tea mid morning. I drank tea for the majority of the day actually. Sr Christina said I had to take it easy if my stomach was still bad, so I did ! It was nice to do so actually. Being on the road the last few weeks had been all go go go. So now it was nice just to relax for a while, and feel at home.
The next day I was feeling much better. And I'm glad this was so because Matilda had made fritters for breakfast!! So we demolished these, which can be eaten on their own, or with peanut butter or jam or both. I went for the both option 😊 they were so so tasty and so so moreish that I ate so many and needed a lie down afterwards. Meanwhile the pre-novices had their classes for the morning.
Later on I met Sr Anne Finnerty who would take me across to a village called Namushakende where the HIV projects were and I would stay there with her for a few days. We drove over in her 4 wheel drive, which is needed in the western province because of the really sandy roads; the Liuwa plain floods during rainy season to form a beautiful water-filled landscape. After the water goes back down to the river it leaves behind lots of sand and sediment. So you need a 4 wheel drive to get around (if you are lucky enough to have a car). Sr Anne moves like the speed of light (both in person and in her car) so as soon as we arrived at the house at Namushakende there was not a moment to lose! I first met Sr Angela, who is native Zambian and had made a banana cake and had a pot of tea ready for us. We chatted lots and then headed into one of the villages to meet the local people. We were first greeted by many, many children. This is the norm for most villages in Africa it seems - there are lots and
lots of little ones, and not so many old people. Then the women emerged and Sr Anne chatted with them to get the latest news of the village. The main discussions concerned the 'new water pump'. Currently, the village did not have any access to clean water. They had to walk nearly two hours to the next village, Namushakende, where there was a water pump. So the parish of Namushakende was helping to fund a new water pump for this village. After the visit we headed back to Namushakende for a dinner looking at the sunset over the plains, which was beautiful. The next day I would be visiting the project for orphans of HIV/AIDS victims.
We set off at 8am for the project, which was only a 20 minute walk from the house. There are 75 children who attend the project and they were already there when we arrived, playing in the grounds outside the centre. Sr Anne showed me around the centre. It has 2 class rooms and one clinic room. The clinic room is used for the health visitor. Here, orphaned babies aged 0-1 years are weighed weekly and their formula feed programmes and growth are
Waiting for their breakfast
reviewed accordingly. Outside the centre is the kitchen where there are two cooks who prepare the meals for the children and staff. There are 2 teachers at the centre and each one teaches a group of around 35-40 children.
To start the morning the children first had their breakfast of fritters and a glass of milk. They then had their classes for the morning followed by lunch at 12 which was usually a boiled egg and a sweet potato. When the children receive their food in turn, all of them wait until each child has their food before they start eating. Such manners! After lunch they sang their ABCDE song and
then headed off home for the afternoon. They are mostly looked after at home by their family members e.g. aunts, uncles, grandparents. So there is no 'in house' orphanage per se.
Later that day I also visited the local school around which there are lots of painted signs regarding HIV/AIDS (see pics). I stayed in Namushakende for a few days observing the projects and local life as it was a real insight into the lives of the local Lozi people.
The Lozi are such lovely people.
They are always friendly and greet you as you walk past. They always stop in their tracks and take at least a few seconds to ask how you are (and how your family are, if they know you well). They cup their hands together as if they are going to clap. They also bend their knees like a sort of bouncing curtsey. When they are satisfied that they have found out how you are, they carry on. I started greeting the people in the same way and don't be surprised if I greet you like that when I get home!
At the weekend there was to be a new church opening in a village not far from Namushakende. There would be celebrations with lots of Lozi costumes and music and dance so it would be a big event! All the sisters attended plus a few of the local teacher volunteers. We arrived at about 8.30am to find large crowds of beautifully dressed Lozi people. The Bishop also made an appearance. There was a big procession with so many colours and sounds and it was amazing. They opened the church and blessed it, then had a service and christened all
Sr Anne Finnerty, Namunji, Philomena, Matilda, Sr Christina Mitchell
the babies of the local villages. And there were a lot of them....The whole service took 4 hours !! But it was an amazing atmosphere. Everybody was so happy! Including the children. None of them cried or kicked up a fuss. They just looked around with beady eyes and curiosity. They're gorgeous ! I kidnapped one after the service. Well, Sr Matilda kidnapped it for me after I asked her to. The mother was pleased to have a break. And we all cooed over him for hours. After the service there was a lunch provided in the grounds outside the church - buhobe, so starchy and comforting, dripping in an oily soup sauce, creamy beans and salty greens. So delicious! We hung out with the babies some more and then headed back to the house in Mongu to relax for the evening.
Later that evening, an unfortunate event happened ....my shorts split!! Right in the bum !!!!! I think I had eaten too many fritters with peanut butter and jam. Whoops. But the sisters were amazing. They took the shorts immediately and all stood around pinning and tacking. They agreed the shorts would need reinforcement with some sort of
Me, Namunji, Sr Christina, Philomena, Matilda, Sr Angela
material. They were all gathered around the old singer sewing machine and eventually the shorts were repaired and you wouldn't even know there had been a tear in them !! They were so good to me and, as well as repairing my shorts, had looked after me so well during my one week stay. It was all such a homely and family feel and I felt sad to be leaving them!! We had a final supper and I said it goodbyes to them as I would be leaving at 4am the next morning to head back east for Lusaka, the capital.
I woke at 3.30am and Sr Christina made me a final cup of tea before waving me off ! 😞 I took a taxi to the bus station where I would catch my 4.30am bus for Lusaka. It was to be a long journey on a very hot and sticky bus. The rows had 5 seats across instead of the usual 4, with the same width of a standard coach. So it was a bit more squashy! Also I made the mistake of choosing a left sided seat against he window...this was the side the sun was shining.
So I spent most of the journey sweating my face off (there is no air con) and my arm sweating against the arm of the woman next to me. She didn't seem to mind. We drove through the beautiful Kafue National park and I spotted one giraffe and what I thought was a pride of lions but that was probably just my sweaty eyes deceiving me. I had lots of snacks which I had eaten by about midday so I bought some more along the way from the side of the road. At each village stop, thousands of people run up to the windows of the bus trying to sell bananas, oranges, cashew nuts, packeted biscuits and crisps, cold drinks, accessories and more! Also we had various wee stops but, because I had purposely fluid restricted myself due to the previous bus toilet experience, I only peed once in 9 hours. And it was another interesting experience. It was called a 'woman's urinal'. This was a wall behind which there were lots of women squatting over a gutter peeing. Excellent! So I thought, when in Rome....and had the true woman's urinal experience! Eventually we arrived in Lusaka just after 3pm
Me, Philomena, Katie (volunteer teacher) and kidnapped baby
where I would stay for a few days to get ready for my onward journey back to Malawi.
I spent a few days in Lusaka recovering from the bus journey, making travel plans, changing money and catching up on writing my blog 😊 activities in Lusaka included going to local pool at the Radisson blue where I had a few greek salads (sweet ladies!) and visiting the 'sugarbush cafe' which was set on a local farm full of lemon trees (Dad are you excited?) just outside the eastern suburbs of Lusaka. My current book was 'Welcome to Braggsville' by Geronimo Johnson, a fairly disturbing novel.
I then headed for Malawi on 27th April. It was another early bus leaving at 5am, for Lilongwe. I learnt my lesson from the last bus journey and sat on the opposite side to the sun ! I was up front behind the driver so had a great view of the beautiful drive, which was all lush and mountainous. As usual, I fluid restricted myself to avoid women's urinals and suchlike. The first wee stop was a few hours into the journey and was just a bush wee. I.e. people just went in
the grass on the side of the road. With minimal coverage. I opted out of this one. In the afternoon the bus conductor came around with biscuits and fizzy drinks. How delightful! We arrived at Chipata, a town close to the border, round 3pm. When the bus pulled into the bus station, it got stuck in first gear. For nearly one hour. It couldn't get into reverse gear in order to turn the bus around, which it needed to be able to do to get out of the station and back onto the road! So that was a fun hour. Not. We crossed the border with no problems and eventually arrived in Lilongwe around 6.30pm. I headed for my hostel, Mabuya Camp and stayed in Lilongwe also for a couple of days. Mainly to get over the long bus journey and prepare for the next one !
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