Friday, June 29, 2012

TinTin's Adventures in Zambia

TinTin and Snowy are here for their Zambian adventure!  This poster was created by the fine folks at InHouse Design Studio. Hey...that's me!  The kids are waiting for the full book but for now putting the poster together was the project of the week as they were finishing up their final school days. What a push that was to get us all thru the week of parties, activities, assemblies, awards ceremonies, graduations and a life of total (but temporary) chaos.

To give you some context for this project:  Nyami-Nyami is the god of the mighty Zambezi River that watches over Lake Kariba and controls life in and on the river.  The Lake was formed in 1956 when a huge dam was built on the river which separates Zambia and Zimbabwe. Wikipedia of describes baTonga legend of Nyami-Nyami, and this legend certainly gives us a head start to writing a full story.  The Tonga people were 'displaced' (this is the polite term) by the dam construction and subsequent flooding but apparently had confidence that Nyami-Nyami would never allow completion of the dam.

The Knife Edge Bridge spans the river directly across from the Zambezi River's Victoria Falls. It was built  over the 'boiling pot' at gorge's Eastern Cataract.  During the rainy season the mist from the falls rains upwards ferociously and even a quick dash through the cloud will leave you soaked through in a matter of seconds.  (just have a look at TJs passport which he had on him in an inside rainjacket pocket wrapped in double zip-loc bags if you need proof...and our digital camera and cell phone graveyard).

We're certain that the full adventure will reveal itself over the course of our upcoming 35-hour journey. There's nothing like sitting in a coach airplane seat for that long with two children to get your creative juices flowing.  Blistering barnacles!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

His Excellency

Dr Kaunda with the girls.  Check out little Nellie.
There are any number of strange situations we have found ourselves in recently.  I mention this to people from time to time, reminding them that this blog really only tells half the story.   There are topics that are off limits (work and colleagues which naturally constitutes a large part of our life), pictures I don’t share, names or landmark events that pass un-blogged.  But yesterday, we had a great opportunity that stumbled our way that I’m happy to share.  We were all scrubbed and polished and dressed for court (can’t talk about that here) and a random but funny work meeting that the kids were going to tag along to (can’t talk about that either).  Court was adjourned for another 2 weeks and the meeting was postponed til Friday.  So when our friend/former neighbor/fellow parent called as asked if the kids could come by after school to meet someone I was happily able to say “Of course!”
10 minutes to get ready.
It wasn’t exactly clear what sort of meeting we were going to get ready for, but the kids and I dashed home from school, they got changed into “fancy dress” and their handsome shirts and we ran over to our friends’ house.  The few times we need the kids to dress up always reveals our wardrobe shortcomings. Particularly at this time of year when it’s cold enough to wear trousers and closed-toed shoes (and when we’re packing for our US holiday where we’ll be no doubt buying all new shoes, socks etc.).  When you pull these things out just 3 times a year it’s very likely that the boys will have outgrown EVERYTHING they try to put on.  O luckily just scored some hip black trousers, a crisp white Herve-esque* and nice dress shoes b/c he needed them for his school play.  He also has just grown into two suit jackets that we picked up from a friend last year.
(*Herve Renard is Zambia’s very French football coach and is famous for his ‘lucky shirt, his perfect hair and the fact that even at a nail-biter of a mid-day match in Equatorial Guinea’s summer tournament he never broke a sweat.)
We don’t have belts, ties or any accessories and the trousers....let’s just say they are better suited for much shorter children. The only jackets that fit Finn are a leather motorcycle jacket (don’t ask why just know it’s AWESOME) and a polyester tuxedo jacket from the dress up box.  no. no. no.  He has one nice clean pair of chuck taylors we only have ONE chuck taylor and last I checked the boy has TWO feet. So he wore the grungy sneakers.
Hanging out at KKs house 
BUT they both have million dollar smiles and promised to be on their best behavior. There is nothing like a cheerful face on well-mannered child to make you blind to to the high-waters, missing buttons and dirty laces.

Dr. Steven Moyo, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, and our awesome neighbor, Solomon Ossiya
How this meeting came to be.
Our friend had a mentor/benefactor growing up who happened to work as the private secretary to the first president of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda.  Dr. Kaunda held office from the time of Zambian Independence in 1964 until 1993.  He is a champion of civil rights and after the death of one of his sons is an active campaigner in Zambian’s fight against HIV/AIDS.  He’s now 88 and remains an active figure in politics and advocacy and is of course a local and international celebrity.  Zambian’s affectionately refer to him as “KK” but we reminded the kids that in person, he is to be called “Your Excellency,”   (I must say that this term does not roll off the tongue of an American mom, nor does “Your Worship” which is what I’m supposed to call our magistrate -- but after 4 years, I feel more comfortable calling her Mum.)
Our friend has been in Zambia for these past years with his two girls while their mom stayed back in Uganda for her VIP (very important position). Mom is now moving to Ghana for a new job and now she wants the girls with her.  So the girls are packing up and leaving dear old dad.  But not before he gets them an audience with the legendary first president.  Along with some other friends from school, we joined in for this meeting and they all got to spend an hour with His Excellency, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda at his Lusaka residence.  What a treat.
The meeting.
The kids got to goof around in the board room, twirl in the big man’s chair and holler at eachother while they ‘played’ tough guy presidents. Little Nellie:  YOU!  (giggle giggle) Get me coffee! (big laugh) YOU!  Make my bed! (more giggles)  The antics did not stop for the appearance of the president but they all remained on their best behavior and chatted about favorite foods, favorite colours, what it was like to be president--the FIRST president of his country, what instruments he played.  If J’s brothers had been able to come we’re certain the conversation would have drifted towards robots, aliens and KK’s ‘position’ on cheese.  The kids sang the national anthem and then we dashed out side to take photos in the courtyard.  Dr. Kaunda danced and sang for the kids and left us all laughing as he ran (literally) off to tea.

And that was that. (oh, wait, not so fast:  Beth reminds me they also learned the secret handshake....)
The kids all wrote their names on a sheet of paper so that they could each get an autograph.  They all wrote their full names, not a small fete for these guys with names and nicknames and christian names and traditional/tribal names.  

Friday, June 22, 2012


Wow!  Who knew a bunch of 2nd to 5th graders could pull off such a performance!  The annual school drama production of Oliver Twist went off without a hitch last night.  The Dickens novel was adapted for the younger set to be an hour-long musical.  The score was also adapted a bit more so that most of singing was the whole chorus with only a few (if any?) solos. O spent 2 months with a voice coach anyway, just in case and also to help with the simple problem of getting yourself HEARD while you are on stage.

The full novel has a storyline which is incredibly complicated and has a massive number of characters -- it's a great read but would be massively long play.  The school was able to bring in our new drama and performing arts teacher to help out.  Although he doesn't officially start until NEXT school year, it was nice to have a preview of some of the changes in store in terms of what the school is hoping to offer these rising stars.  Great job, kids!

Pictured here is O as Oliver with Jack Dawkins, aka, the Artful Dodger.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Aw, Nuts!

Dailass follows Cilla and the dogs to go see the macadamia nut trees for herself.
Now that you've met Dailass, who placed 1st for the Zambia National Barista Competition and 3rd in the Africa competition and is headed to the World Barista championship this week, let's see what she's up to.  Because her 'signature' drink for the competition is 'Proudly Zambia' -- an iced espresso made from Marika's/Munali Arabica beans served with macadamia nut milk and a touch of honey from Western Province, she decided she'd better find out where these nuts came from.  "They don't come from the ground?!" was her first reaction when she learned about these nuts.  Zambians know plenty about ground nuts, but tree nuts? not so much.

We drove an hour or so out Great North Road to Chisamba and over to the family farm of Priscilla D'Elbee, to meet with the proprietor (Priscilla) of Cilla's Nuts and learn about how this delicious nut makes it way to our shops.  Cilla owns a 6 hectare Macadamia nut plantation with around 3,000 trees. She imported them beginning in 1996 from Australia and runs a completely organic, self sufficient farm with the help of 7 other families.  

The farmhouse where she lives and bases her business is one her grandfather built in 1907.  The land has been passed down and sold off over the years but she has held onto this parcel and is growing a thriving and exclusive plantation.

The farm grows three varieties, all on hearty and reliable Beaumont root stock.  The reason for the variety is that each have slightly different characteristics, the most important of which is that they are ready for harvest at three different times of the year.  The farm is always busy and the nuts they sell are always the freshest and highest quality.  Because their 10 ton yield is relatively small, the operation is quite literally "hands on" and there is very little in the harvest and processing that is mechanised. 

The trees can grow to a height of 12 meters but to keep things simple, they are pruned in the shape of a cone/christmas tree which means they get the best light and the nuts are easy to harvest.  Harvesting is hand-work and done with ladders.  The trees produce sprays of tiny flowers -- each flower has the potential to grow into a nut.  

A spray of mature nuts looks a bit like a cluster of grapes -- really hard, big, grapes.  When they are ripe and ready to harvest they outer husk starts to split and either they are picked off the tree or they fall to the ground and are collected.
Wheelbarrows of nuts are collected in the 'Factory' and run through this machine which agitates them and the husk falls away leaving the nut in it's hard hard shell. The husk is used for mulch and nothing in the farm goes to waste.  

The remaining shell is incredibly strong and can only be cracked after the nuts are dried.  Cilla has worked on a machine which was pieced together from an old pool pump and a bouncy castle blower that keeps the nuts at about 60 degrees C for 3 days.  This dries the shell out just enough to where they can be run through a nut cracker.  The nuts are shelled either in this machine or finished by hand.  They are dried further in another Cilla-made device and are then packed or go to the kitchen.  

The farm is unique in that they are one of the few that not only works 'by hand' but that does everything from planting of the seedlings to the preparing of the finished products and packing them for sale.  They mainly produce nuts but they also make speciality biscotti, chocolate sweets and macadamia nut oil.

This week, Cilla's nuts will travel to Vienna as Dailass prepares to wow the judges.  Best of luck, Dailass!  Watch her performance as competitor #40