Tuesday, December 21, 2010

compliments of the season!

Christmas snuck up on us again.  The kids had a great, hysterically funny nativity play at school before they were let out on their FOUR WEEK holiday.  If this seems excessive, for the families who live in the southern hemisphere it is the summer holiday for them and they are always crying for a longer break.  (Thankfully for us the school follows a N. hemisphere school calendar but I see their point for sure).

Two of our primary teachers took on the pagent project again this year....they did the normal christmas story (herod, wise men, baby jesus in the manger, etc.) but it played out as a news report with on the scene interviews with smartly dressed journalists interviewing period-dressed wisemen, shepards, travelling taxpayers and innkeepers.  Last year they worked ABBA in to the lineup, this year we had Leonard Cohen and Annie Lennox (all the little ballet girls dancing to 'talking to an angel')....the older kids did some singing and recorder performances and the little kids were left with all the "acting."  Finn was King Herod but only had a vague idea that he was actually a bad guy.  (above, about the cutest evil king ever.)   gotta love the costume sews from our old library curtains and the fabric the kids have for their curtains!)
Our funny little secular community school puts on the nativity every year -- a few of us always ask if it's appropriate and frankly there are only 3 of us who think the thing could be more culturally sensitive.  (what about Haunakkah? The New Year (Islam, the 7th this year), etc.) The Muslim moms we talk to find the whole thing incredibly entertaining and really aren't concerned. And so, the show goes on.  There is always mulled wine, mince pies and a cash bar.  it's funny that nary a school event passes without a fresh delivery of lager. Can you imagine a seattle public school having a  mandatory pagent performance with Annie Lennox and booze in the equation?  AND don't forget a visit or two from Santa, of course.  Our Santa usually is the newest male teacher, last year it was our Belgian PE teacher, this year our Zambian SEN teacher.  Santa collects presents (and many hugs) from the kids after the show and they get taken the next day to the UTH Cancer ward.  It's a good thing.

Christmas for us is a lot like it would be in Seattle...minus the weather and the many trips to target.  Cookie decorating parties, decorating the tree, making ornaments, friends and fun.  We really miss the family part of course.  and the Menashe Light Show spectacular.

and snowboarding.  not a whole lot of snowboarding going on here in Lusaka. Family album snaps of our preparations:

 Every year we take on an art project for our tree. It takes up a good chunk of that first week off school and involves lots of planning and working, measuring and math....and troubleshooting  We had a GIANT origami tree one year.  Then a 7ft tall, 6 piece, cardboard tree last year. This year we wanted something a little sturdier.  Particle board was all we can manage, maybe next year we'll find some plywood.  The kids cut this out with a little hack saw and a leatherman, drilled with a hand drill...not something I'd undertake with plywood.

 I bought a pile of BLING beads and they made many many many 'fancy' ornaments.
 FPFJ enjoying 'his side' of the cute bling-tree.  Every day there is something else hanging:  beads from mali (demarreur beads, perhaps not the most appropriate for a christmas tree!), mylar 'tinsel' and most recently a collection of small animals (gorilla, moose, cows, etc).

 The kids have been getting bits of a pay doctor kit every day (advent project, something new for their kit every day) and we also made kits to give to friends, complete with casts, slings, bandages, velcro wrist bands, pez 'medicine', felt 'blood' spots. we added and extra file folder with fake medical degrees, clinic posters (vintage malaria and polio posters) patient intake forms, x-rays, eye charts,  you name it, we found it or made it!!
 Many many many people made many many cookies today.  Funny that out of 8-10 dozen all the frosted ones disappeared in the course of the day.  They are so beautiful, how can you resist?  Wow, right?
All for now, can't wait to share photos from Christmas day!

MERRY CHRISTMAS...and Compliments of the Season!

(art photo from Todd, bonus points from Santy Claus if you can tell what it is...
 it's the array of lights at the Mulungushi Conference Centre....close up below)


Monday, December 13, 2010

Operation Bunk Bed - Complete!

 the sign at m. furnitures, kalingalinga - the real 
reason we picked this shop over the others 

A colleague from Seattle recently came to Zambia for work and stayed on for a project at our favorite women and orphan's center, Chikumbuso. The task? Fundraise in Seattle, bring the cash and some supplies, and get the kids some new bunk beds for their boys and girls 'dorm' rooms.  The rooms are not quite dormatories, rather they are a safe, short-term place that the kids can come to if they find themselves in a situation where they need a safe place to stay.  Maybe there is a situation they are escaping in their family (violence, substance abuse, sexual abuse, etc) or another sort of emergency.  At any rate, the rooms are sometimes just a few children but sometimes they are really packed in.  When I visited the center back in July the comment was made "Well, wouldn't bunk beds be useful?"  The reply?  "Yes."

So, the opportunity came to hook up Manny and Chikumbuso for "Operation Bunk Beds."  We figured it would be a nice neat little project -- a little fundraising, a day of shopping, a day of hauling, a day of painting, a day of sewing. Voila! Two sets of bunk beds (with mosquito nets, of course).  Needless to say, something that we thought was a reasonable task to complete in a week's time took nearly three months and we went over budget. But...it's done!  Yah!

Thanks for everyone who donated for this, Manny's Operation Bunk Beds, project. Sometimes making a difference really IS that easy. (More ways to help Chikumbuso in my next post.)

Here are some snaps and a long, meandering dialogue to fill you in on how the project came together:

Manny with the carpenters Gift and friend in Kalingalinga at M. Furnitures discussing modifications on their bunkbed design.  We had a plan for how they should be but the carpenters had....how shall I put it....they had 'other plans.'  If I have learned anything it's to NEVER INNOVATE.  Or at least never try something different and expect it to work out as you intended.  Building in a mosquito net canopy to a bed/bunkbed seems like a no brainer but after 3 visits to the carpenter and two sets of sketches, what we picked up was something completely different. They were maybe too distracted with why trying to extract from me why I was teaching kids geography instead of the gospel.

To get something made of pine this is where you come -- the side of the road in the Kalingalinga compound between Jesmondine and Kabulonga along Kamloops Road.  The roads in Lusaka are named after other cites -- we have Los Angeles Blvd and Addis Ababa Rd.  and....Kamloops Road, which is a tiny north in British Columbia, Canada on the way to Whistler/Blackcomb.   There are many other pine furniture carpenters, this one is easy to remember and they had a 'floor model' that was close to what we wanted and a price that seemed reasonable.  The guys were nice and friendly and we thought they could meet quick turn-around.  (HA!) 

Other workshops in Kalingalinga make wicker furniture (raw pine from Zambia, wicker from Malawi), welded playsets (swings, slides, monkey bars), metal gates, gravel (hand-crushed), charcoal, etc. There is a new row of stalls for salaula -- a second-had market for your value village castoffs. What does not sell at the Federal Way VV store is delivered here and sold-roadside. (the clothes come from all over but I have seen a FW little league shirt or two, and lots of Sonics jerseys lately....)

If you need to purchase something (as opposed to making something) you come to Kamwala or go 'to town' to Cairo Road or Freedom Way. In Kamwala we found Manali Mfg Ltd and got four single high density foam mattresses and pillows. Unfortunately for us they had them in stock and we decided to forgo the unnecessary trip to the FOAM FACTORY! I'll dream up some excuse to go there, mark my words.

It was October when this photo of the Kamwala shopping district was taken.  The City Council was just beginning to think about drainage issues for the upcoming rainy season.  Now that we are in the thick of the rains it's an absolute mess down there.  They (hand) dug massive drainage ditches (which were promptly used to dump rubbish) are 8-10 feet deep and 10 feet side with rickety plank bridges between the roads and the shops.  It's really not charming and extremely dangerous. (Particularly if you factor in the poor drainage alongside the poor sanitation system, the annual cholera outbreaks, and the fact that many people (especially kids heading to school/work before sunrise) don't know how to swim.)

This was early in the morning -- Kamwala is typically packed with wheelbarrows and cars to the point of absolute gridlock and chaos.    On the left you can see the Julilika cycle shop -- this is where I get bike supplies - with marginal success.  The tube we got for Finn's tiny trainer bike (from Hank!) fit but has the strangest valve that we can only pump up with an attachment that we have to borrow from a friend who works on cars on the side.  It leaks so we have to borrow it most every time we use that bike.
There is a dying art in Zambia, it's the art of murals and handpainted signs.  Sadly most companies are moving to vinyl or metal signs (which are incredibly expensive, poor quality and are frequently stolen or vandalized).  In Kamwala, the handpainted signs are priceless.

On the left, my favorite fabric shops, Safiques and the House of Chitenge and on the right WIG WORLD. (along with every other shop you can imagine and even a few you cannot imagine.)

Our assistant, doing inventory. " 1. 2. 3. 4. Hey, I'm FOUR!" (not for long, pup!) I really did not think it possible to put four mattresses and four pillows and bedding in my car.  

Part Two of the project was a lot of waiting and a lot of hauling.  We waited for the carpenters to finish.  We waited for a truck to bring the beds home.  We waited for the hardware store to get some wood primer.  They only get pink primer here for some reason but there wasn't a pot to be had in all of Lusaka from what I could gather.  The wait was fortunate b/c when the hardware store finally had primer they had switched owners and the new owners were clearing out custom mis-mixed paint and we scored a pot of pretty blue paint for 80,000 that is normally priced 300,000. ($16 vs. $60, score!)   We waited for paint to dry (it's so cliche but it's the rainy season by now), we waited for a bednet to be stitched, we waited to borrow a drill (and used the most horribly made hand-drill in the meantime), we waited for extra hands to measure and re-cut all the bednet canopy wood (which was presented like an ikea-flat-pack from bizarro world). At last we waited for an opportunity and a sunny day where a big truck was available to deliver the beds.  Last week it finally came together.

Before -- a tangle of nets

After:  new mattresses, new bedding, new pillows, new (uber-fancy) net*

The second bed, in the shop, waiting to be assembled in the boys' room.

*We purchased one of these super fancy (and super pricey) nets with the idea that it will be a 'model' for the sewing studio to use for making a second net for bunk bed set #2 and....if they are inspired to make more for the shop....even better!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Garden Party Guest

TJ gets credit for spotting this strange creature (can you see it in the picture below?) as it made it's way slowly slowly slowly across our grass lawn the other morning.  While we watched it for over an hour and witnessed it eat 8 snacks of crickets and moths, we only were able to snap a photo of before and after capturing it's prey.  O took a little movie on his camera and happened to catch a little video clip of it getting a cricket.  I watched the movie a dozen times and you can't even tell for sure that anything has happened.  it's amazing.  more amazing are the photos I have seen of chameleons with their tongues out and grabbing a snack.  I can't imagine what kind of camera someone would have to have to get that micro-second in a frame.

Giving Thanks

While not the traditional menu we had a feast in honor of thanks and understanding.  It wasn't too difficult to settle on the Middle East as the inspiration for our gathering.   One reason is that the food is yummy but also the ingredients, while unfamiliar, are available here.  Also, while the power supply has been pretty consistent (thanks, ZESCO), we can't really plan a big gathering that depends on having electricity all day.  So, we always do big dinners that involve a lot of day-ahead recipes and an hour before guests are due we fire up our giant 55 gal drum grill.  The logic of getting some lamb from the local butcher vs. a turkey from Brazil also was a strong incentive for a non-traditional menu.  I won't bore you with the details except to say that it was yummy, the table was overflowing with sides and sauces and figs and dates and grape leaves and litchees and pineapples and falafel, the most amazing falafel I've ever had......I only thought about wool once or twice.*

I will share our lamb and chicken kebab recipes:

Jooleh Kebabs (chicken)
   for the marinade:
1/2 teaspoon safron threads (I'm certain you could skip this without any grave consequence -- it's really expensive but I know even TJs used to stock it in a teeny tiny little glass jar.  Myself, I have a lifetime supply of the stuff which I got for a few shillings on Zanzibar)
1T warm water
1-1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2t salt
1t ground pepper
2 chickens (or 2 chickens worth of parts.....we used cubed boneless/skinless breast meat and put them on skewers with great results)

For the Basting mixture
1/4 t safron threads (again, leave this ingredient out as necessary)
1T fresh lemon juice
3T melted unsalted butter

Marinate overnight.  Grill.  yum.  eat with couscous salad and some yummy spinach.

Moroccan lamb
For the meat, I found lamb legs and lamb arms (don't ask) at the butcher's already cut into 'steaks' or chops.  I beat them (b/c they were naughty) to tenderize and then I cut them into cubes. B/c I am so squeamish still about meat the dog has  month worth of scraps and gristle and bones for all my efforts)  I marinated them overnight in lemon, salt and honey and rosemary (as suggested by Donna Hay) first.

I kept aside half of the lamb to cook as is (further basted with a lemon/honey glaze at the grill/braii).  The other half I marinated a few hours in the below (I may have made double this recipe, too, I can't remember. I do remember that I was so clever to reserved half of the marinade (that the meat didn't touch) to cook down into an amazing sauce to accompany everything at the table)

At any rate, the sauce/spice butter/marinade ingredients:

1 stick butter
5 cloves garlic
1/3 c chopped fresh mint leaves (or pos 2T dried mint leaves)
1T ground coriander
1T sweet paprika
2t ground cumin

rub half of this on the lamb.  set aside the other half for the basting sauce and the table sauce:

In a saucepan on the stove add:

3T butter
 1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3T white wine vinegar or lemon juice
16 fresh mint leaves slivered
2 cups broth or other liquid (I added water b/c my beautiful quail stock was in the freezer in a container that I couldn't microwave)
salt to taste
ground cumin to taste

to cook sauce, melt butter, add onionand garlic (saute 5 min or until just starting to brown), add vinegar, mint and bring to a boil (DON'T try to smell it while the vinegar boils off, it'll singe your nostrils something fierce!  Not that I know, ahem, from experience.)  Stir in the broth/water and simmer to reduce.  mix in the spiced butter at the end of cooking.  I let this mixture cool and then ran it through the blender but you could leave the sauce chunky).  Check the flavor and add any other thing you think is missing.  (more salt?  more cumin?  some corriander or tumeric for good measure?)

Use 1/2 of this mixture for basting and set aside half to serve as a sauce.

Happy Thanksgiving

*Our good friend Ben can't/wont eat lamb b/c he is convinced it tastes like old wool.  We took a pass on the thrift-store-sweater-marinade, but of course now I can't prepare lamb EVER without thinking of Ben and of course my favorite green cableknit sweater, all soggy from a rainy walk on the beach.

So (thanks Ben) in a sick way I also think of wool sweaters when I fix lamb.  This does not deter me from eating it and strangely enough, enjoying it.  A long marinade, by the way, is the key to making the sweater association Gucci vs. Goodwill....Versace vs Value Village.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Week

The kids celebrated BOOK WEEK at school....Friday was 'Villians and Heroes' dress up day (or dress like a book character).  I saw Tinkerbell and Peter Pan taking the register to the office, the Grand Witch (roald dahl) jumping rope at recess, the Ice Queen (HC Andersen) teaching math to year 3, and Stellaluna getting a phonics lesson from Barney.  Zeus was throwing lightening bolts while smacking gum that Violet Beauregard had given to all of year 4....and lots of kids were ready to go to platform 9-3/4 right after assembly.  O won the prize for his research and costume for upper primary, but also earned his silver award AND got his stage four amateur swimming association patch.  whew.  exciting week.  Finny is charging forward into his reading program and is so proud to have a book with words for his homework reading and FOUR word lists to practice every day.  wow.

Harry at school with Violet Beauregard...the gum chewing bubble gum champion who turns into a blueberry at the Willy Wonka factory....she is post-popped here... Violet is nearly a year older but even she was wondering if little Harry here had given himself a shrinking spell or if she had some growing beans for breakfast!  The girl is like a stringbean to begin with, but lately you can practically SEE her growing.  Note to self:  get magic growth beans for our little stellaluna....

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rainbow Buffalo

My designer made some changes as we were working (he claims there IS a nose in his drawing for one!) and of course we had to use chitenge print instead of solid colors....fun project.

 we had to destroy some pillows to get the poly-fill....something you can't purchase here.
Owen, trying to draw his pattern for an elephant. not exactly a tidy work space, eh?  it was about 95 degrees and this, the smallest room in the house with the lease floor space has the best AC.

Friday, November 19, 2010

3G in the 3rd world

Doing business in Zambia is getting easier and easier as competition is quickly opening things up.  Companies that once had monopolies are scrambling to adapt (or are slowly going under).  Just in the last 3 months the pain of buying more 'talk time' is getting less and less b/c we're getting much more for our money.  Additionally there are special promotions (calling the UK for 50% off, for example) that are automatic (opt out vs. opt in as they formerly were).  Now we have three providers -- all of whom have been bought and sold by bigger and bigger companies and have shifted from government to private commercial operations.  The company I use, for example has changed from Cell-Tell to Zain to Orange and now it's Bharti Airtel (in India) but for the time-being is called Zain-Zambia.

For us 'mericans the whole system of make cell phone calls here is kind of refreshing.  The hassle of getting a phone in Seattle this summer that we could use during the 6 weeks we were there was kind of shocking, actually.  When we came here back in 2008 we went to a cell phone retailer, bought a cheap Nokia phone (which is basic and irritating to use, but is still working and has stood up to being dropped, run over, plopped in the pool.....); it came with sim card and pre-loaded with 30,000 worth of talk time. All this for 80,000--about $16.

To get a 'go phone' in Seattle this past summer we had to shell out about $150 for a sim card and a month of talk/text and another $60 to 'top up' for the remaining 2 weeks that we needed the phones.  We already have 'unlocked' phones b/c I'm pretty sure that the US is the last place on the planet where your phone is tied to your phone company.  (Does this make a lick of sense?)  Otherwise we would have had to buy the "Go Phone" on top of the calling plan.

Because of a mix-up when I first signed up for my US go-phone, I blew through my 'time' after only 5 days.  Thankfully they honored the original contract and I got the original 'plan' that I signed up for (unlimited talk/text for $60 for the month) restored at no cost but with 40 minutes on the phone to India trying to sort things out.  These sim cards expire if you don't continue to sign up month after month so we'll have to buy new sim cards and sign up for a new plan when we come back.  It may be cheaper/easier to buy a new phone and sim cards in London -- they sell them from vending machines at the airport.

This thing of making a 2 year commitment to a phone and plan as is standard in the US really seems absurd.  How can you anticipate what you may need, how you will use your phone and how you may use new technology?  I sure can't.

At any rate, making a call here is pretty straight forward.  Buy a phone you like.  Buy a sim card for the company you want to use. (or buy lots of phones and a sim for every company you want.)  Sign up for a post-paid plan or pre-paid plan (without signing your life away or having to give personal information -- I was shocked at how much of my personal 'data' I had to give up to get my little 'go phone.'  For pre-paid, which is what I have I have to buy little scratch cards for 5,000 to 50,000 kwacha ($1 to $10) and to get more time, I just scratch the code and call *958* and punch in the code.  There are vendors on every corner and you only need to nod your head and roll down your window to buy more time (or just make eye contact or look like you might be reaching for your pocketbook, these guys don't miss a thing).  If there is no one nearby you can pull over and just ask if there is anyone and they will come running in no time.

I spoke with our corner-vendor today - he gets 5% of sales.  If I buy 50,000, he gets 2,500.  Some quick calculations tell me that to make the same amount that a well-paid gardener makes he has to sell about 400,000 every day.  This is a lot.  He also sells the newspaper/s and the corner where he works is a hotbed of entrepreneur activity.  There is a group of men that do everything from plumbing to selling veggies, fixing flats, doing bike repairs, etc.  There is a lot of checker-playing going on as well, it's a very social corner and maybe is a bit different in character from the other corner....the one close to the bar.

My plan has been shifted to new, reduced-tariff plans automatically for me and I can sign up for internet on my phone as well but have to go into the store to do it so have not bothered.  I'm connected enough to the computer, I'm not sure I'm ready to be even more tied to the thing.  My phone company is one of the most expensive but the coverage is great, especially considering where we live and where we travel.  By using a bigger company, too, we have the added benefit of the new lifting of restrictions on country-to-country calls and opening of borders and 'roaming' charges.  TJ has a dual sim-card phone so he can keep his zambia number and also use a local phone number sim card (and get local rates).

With my One Time Takamo plan,  I think I pay 8 kwacha per second /480 per minute (10 cents) for off-peak and 13 for peak time (16 cents). My internet, if I signed up for it would add on 70,000 a month (pre-paid, $15)

We pre-pay for our electricity now, too, but this is not so interesting, eh?  I have to go to the little office down the street, turn off by the Carnival lodge and travel down a bumpy dirt road to the office with no sign.  The office is closed a lot and we have to plan ahead a bit but somehow, the system works. Occasionally we run out of units and are without power until we can top up.  I think for our electricity (which also has greatly improved -- we used to have outages 4-7pm a few nights a week but now it's really infrequent that our power is inexplicably out). costs about $150 a month.

The next thing we are waiting to improve is our internet access.  Zambia remains one of the most expensive countries in the world to have internet access.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

creepies and crawlies

it’s hot.  really hot.  people get a little nutty it’s so hot.  
and then the rain starts.  
the water pours down from the sky in sheets.
the streets fill and city floods.
lightening snaps
thunder crashes 
like you absolutely wouldn’t believe.

Everything is cool and fresh.
New birds appear with this sudden change of weather, 
the toads are out in force. keeping us awake with their insane loudness.
and then.....
the creepy crawlies appear.
four legs, six legs, eight, 300.  flooded out of their homes,
It’s when the rain begins in earnest that I get to worrying 
about the critters coming in to get away from the rising water.
because, then, 
it’s time 
for the critters

Rock star

Remember Remember the 5th of November:
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why Gunpowder and Treason
Should ever be forgot!

Most Fridays the school day ends with an assembly that goes on for 40 minutes or so.  they celebrate birthdays and give awards and reminders and tally their house points.  Usually a class 'hosts' the assembly and is responsible for preparing a skit.  4A's assigned assembly day fell on 'Guy Fawkes Day' "Bonfire Night" AND "Diwali" and so these were the themes for the assembly.  Owen got to 'be' Guy Fawkes, one of 7 (or 13 depending on what you are reading) conspirators who hatched a plot to blow up Parliament in opposition to King James I's persecution of the Catholics in the year 1605.  We cannot sort out the modern-day logic behind this 'holiday' or why it is still around but we have tried.  We even mis-read something and it made PERFECT sense.  Then we re-read and again, are totally baffled.  I can try to explain.

The 7 somehow gained access to a room below parliament and filled it with explosives (36 barrels of gunpowder!)  They realized somewhere along the way that innocent people would be killed/injured (duh) and so they put out a letter warning people to stay away.  Well, the king also heard of the plan (duh) and the plan was foiled and one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes was caught red-handed on the night of 5th November, down in the little room, ready to ignite the gunpowder.  He (and his compatriots) were sentenced, tortured, and killed.  

One story tells of Guy Fawkes' torture and that as he went up to the gallows to be killed he somehow summoned the strength to escape the guards.  He made a run for it, only to fall, break his neck and die....and then be drawn and quartered along with a few other things, just for good measure.  (do you see a monty python skit in here somewhere?)

So, 5th November is bonfire night....celebrating the overthrow of the 'Gunpowder Plot" and celebrating the safety of the King.  Or, it is celebrating the plot to overthrow the king -- kind of a demonstration or reminder to the King of what was the will of the people? 

To this day, the reigning monarch doesn't go to parliament except once a year to 'open' session.

In any case, Owen's class was going to recite the poem.  But....Owen made up a song to go with the poem and the whole class sang and did instruments.  He is joined on guitar by his good friend Rushil, Emmanuel played the drums the rest had shakers.  It was really sweet and Owen looked like a natural up there.

And Finn....never missing a thing:  We could not get Owen's attention to get a decent photo, but Finn, who is now with O up at 'the big school' never fails to notice when we are there...and when we are not there.  This guy is a tough one.  The kids have received many awards this school year and we have managed to miss the presentation of most of them.  This assembly I came EARLY and Todd came just in the nick of time with the camera.

Part II of the Assembly was Diwali and fireworks safety advice.  Explaining Diwali is much simpler:  a five-day festival of lights celebrating victory of good over evil.  (For Hindus,  the return of Lord Rama from his 14 year exile, or in Jainims and Sikhism commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji after he freed 52 Hindu kings -- in India it also marks the end of the harvest season.)  We went to the Lotus Club for Diwali night (instead of to Baobab International School's Bonfire Night) and stayed for a 4 hour long music and dance extravaganza and terrifying fireworks show.  They had all low-clearance fireworks and let's just say that when you add the genuine fear of something going terribly wrong to a fireworks show of this scale it adds a whole new dimension to the experience.  It was really impressive but I was so tense the whole time it was hard to 'enjoy.  And for Finn, who never misses a thing remember, it was too much.  We really couldn't blame him.  Perhaps we all should have been that worried.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Siku.  A rare moment of (1) contemplation (?) and (2) stillness.

Siku.  Demonstrating his (1) athleticism (2) brilliance. (?) 

Siku as we typically see him, a blur, a skinny black blur. 
His ribs show even when he's a blur.

This very very strange dog we have here, Siku, is the oddest creature I have ever encountered.  He is frequently on a hunger strike despite the full dish of real-meat-gravy soaked dog food (and any meaty table scraps we can put together for him) and yet he'll happily and systematically eat our sword ferns down the nibbins and will collect, gnaw on and bury rotten avocados.  He'll forgo a foam bed with a clean blanket on the patio by the house for a pile of wet leaves in the pouring rain.  He'll chase bees and birds, skinks (lizards) and cars -- all with pretty miserable outcomes --- but won't chase a ball or frisbee or dog toy.

The oddest thing is that he HATES the water.  It's been really hot and the dog is black and lays down, tongue hangin' out, slobbering from the heat on the asphalt driveway.....so we lured him to the pool with a handful of meat and tossed him in the water.  He can swim but he swam the totally wrong direction and couldn't get out, another attempt, another frantic paddle.....until we had to haul him out.  We're certain he felt better for it but the result was that he needed to run circles around the yard for 30 minutes re-gain his 'composure.' so in the end I doubt it did much good.

But how do we 'feel' about Siku.  I suppose we love him....it's just that he's so odd ... and I'm mad at him for not being Ruby.


On this steamy Sunday morning our lazy day was interrupted with the distictive ‘clang-clang-clang-clang-clang-clang’ of someone at our gate (a stone banging the metal gate.)  Frequently we ignore this most irritating noise b/c if we are not expecting anyone, it’s easier just to let them pass than try to unravel why exactly they need to speak with ‘the boss.’  Once in a while it’s actually someone we want to see but usually it’s someone asking for the gardener (if he’s not answering the gate he’s not here) or someone inquiring about a job (we are not hiring, although looking at the mess in my office, the laundry piling up clearly we do need help!)
Today, it was one young Lunda school-leaver named Bruno, an enumerator for Zambia’s 2010 National Census.  He had already spoken with the other family that lives on the property (Uladi (Peter) and Obrin, and their two girls, Margret and Taowanga) but now it was our turn to be counted.  
The census has to capture information from the likes of us, a straightforward (we think) nuclear family of expatriots living and working in the capital city as well as capture relavent information from, say, Mwinilunga widow farming in the village and raising the orphaned children of her distant relatives.  
The survey counts number of people living in the house, service animals (oxen, donkey but curiously, not horses, b/c horses are not commonly used in Zambia for farming), vehicles (motorcycle to scotch-cart (ox cart), wheelbarrow and bicycle, communication and technology (house phone, mobile phone, computer), construction of shelters (mud and thatch, concrete block, timber frame (very unusual give the ferocity of the termite population) etc), number of rooms (bedrooms, living rooms, bathrooms etc), source of power, source of water, employment, age, education, and the relationship of everyone living in the house.  The newspaper today just printed a full pullout explaining about the census and a full-size copy of the census-taker’s survey worksheet (for complete transparency?)
In talking with a few friends we heard that when they were answering questions the enumerator hesitated at the “are you disabled?” box when the man of the house answered “No.”  
He stopped, looked him square in the eye:  “But.....you are wearing glasses?!”
“How long have you had this disability?”
“What caused this, this nearsightedness?”
He also asked if the children were albinos.....they are ‘white’ for sure but not THAT white. Good to ask, just in case...
In the end, we got a sticker on our gate and Bruno headed on his way to try to track down the other 20 ‘go-back’ houses on his list of 130 houses.

Tricked, Treated.

For the first time in several years the Jennings boys took part in Halloween activities, dressing up, bobbing for apples, sticking their hands in mystery boxes to collect treats or feel squishy eyeballs, carving watermelons, doing the limbo (with a giant paper mache bone), banging black cauldron pinatas, and having fun with other witches, bats and gouls on the Leisure Hire Jumpy Castle... Halloween, clearly, Zambia-style.
This was a birthday/halloween party and the girls were advised to leave their princess costumes behind....they came instead as drowned mermaids, dead queens, ghouls and evil witches!  Owen was "Capoiera Kid" (instead of Karate Kid) but was mistaken by the parents as Jesus, and Finn, fresh from Kananka dressed up as a fruit bat.  There were a few characters from Thriller and even a little Brett Favre showed up in a Green Bay Packers uniform -- SCARY!!!! 

To be honest, I had enjoyed the break from making costumes and the pressure of trying to dress a child up for trick or treating in the cold and rainy weather.   Over the years we have made costumes for:  Rainbow, Kiwi, Fireboat captain (and Kitty), Black lab, Muppet Bird, Scuba Diver, and Tree (with crow).  
Owen put together his own outfit so I only had FPFJ’s to worry about. And worry I did.  The challenges were (1) using materials we had on-hand (2) making something that fit (comfortably) and that could come on and off (3) making something that would be reasonably comfortable in the hottest days of summer (and potential downpour) (4) no pattern, no reference materials, NO INTERNET and (4) something that would last longer than just the party.   
We finished version 1 in time for the party (if arriving nearly 2 hours late can count as ‘in-time’ - we don’t have email and didn’t know when the party started) but did a major remodel the next day.  Version 2 will hopefully survive the rigors of being a costume-box-costume and can be passed-on to the next little wanna-be-bat that wonders our way.
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hanging out at Kasanka

In honor of the upcoming Halloween holiday (which they don’t celebrate in Zambia), we took a little camping trip to the Kasanka National Park, home to the world’s largest (?) bat migration.  The bats come to one of Zambia’s smallest (and only privately managed) parks from about the end of October to the end of December.  Where do they come from?  It’s a bit of a mystery but it is believed they come from all over central/Southern Africa, mostly the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, or Congo DR as they call it here....).  The number of bats that come have been reported as high as 8 million.The bats are Straw-Coloured Fruit Bats.  They have a wingspan of about 80cm.  They eat....fruit!  The BBC is sending a crew for a month so we'll be on the lookout for the results of that project.  This migration phenomenon is still kind of a mystery.
Access in the bat forest is tightly controlled as the bats are easily disturbed.  Also the Park funds itself with entrance fees and such -- it's run as a private trust, the "Kasanka National Trust."  Two of the kids classmates have grown up here b/c their parents manage the trust -  but are recent migrants back to Lusaka, having now turned 6 and 8.  

As we heard from the folks at the main lodge....after the fact... the forest is also a favorite place of the park’s leopards, crocs, black mambas, and elephants.  Another good reason to go with an armed escort.

To see the bats you can climb up into ‘hides’ that are platforms 40 feet up. 
This is a hide that isn't in the bat forest but it gives you an idea.  The hides in the forest rise out of dense cover and you only get to them when the forest is dark .... and creepy.  Perfect for leopards and crocs but not perfect for cameras.

 The first trip up was terrifying for him, the rest were terrifying for his parents! Fearless Finn!

It’s hard to describe. It looks in the photo as though we’re at top of the treetop (the view from our perch, below)  but in fact the treetops have been all pulled down to this level by the weight of the many bats roosting daily in the forest. 

Every evening at dusk the bats leave their roosts, returning at 3 or 4 in the morning.  The spectacle of 8 million bats taking flight at once....it’s incredible. The taller trees in the distance are just stick trunks -- the clumps are all bats.

 you can see the tree on the left, full with bats and the trees (what's left of them) on the right where the bats have already flown. Below, a close up -- those dark clumps are all bats.

The best is the sound - of the bats calling but also the 'whooooossshhhh' of them flying from a roost all at once.  For that you'll have to climb up the Fibwe Hide and experience this yourself! (tho I think O took a movie with his camera, I'll see if he can upload it onto his blog!)