not for the faint of heart

So… this week was a complete bust! But only for keeping up with my blog! Everything else this week has far surpassed what I could have imagined experiencing “on safari”! This has been the most uniquely saturated and surreal experience and I will not do it justice by writing about it quickly. Wifi was very unreliable this week and although I’ve taken some notes, the photos tell the best story. I was extremely sad to leave Mfuwe today and Wildlife Camp where I’ve stayed the past 5 days. The staff at Wildlife Camp are absolutely lovely! From Jacqueline and Alice in the front office, to Saleem and Mufuse in the dining room, to Ryver, Dingi, and Joseph, our guides this week. Everyone was extremely friendly and warm and I received some big hugs when I left today. I also met some really interesting folks who were also travelling and hope to keep in touch with them. It’s amazing how quickly you can connect with people when you’re sharing these unique moments.

I’m back in Lusaka for the night and tomorrow afternoon I will start the journey home. I hope to spend time adding more detail and photos about this past week once I’m back in Toronto. But for now, here are just a very few of the incredible moments I experienced! (WARNING: Some graphic photos!)


Wildlife Camp – South Luangwa

It’s Sunday and I’ve just arrived at Wildlife Camp just across the river from South Luangwa National Park. There is only wifi in the common dining area so it looks like I’ll be offline a lot this week. I’m just eating lunch in the dining room and a little head peeked up from under the table across from me. A monkey had snuck over without me noticing. I tried to scare her away but like our raccoons, it doesn’t appear the monkeys are afraid of humans when there is food involved. Before I knew it, she hopped up on the table, grabbed my roll, and ran up a tree!!! Very, very stealth!

I’m scheduled for a night safari tonight! Will try to post as soon as I can but honestly, I’m looking forward to being offline! May just get caught up on Thursday night when I’m back in Lusaka before the long flight home! Zikomo!

THE dedication ceremony! … and a couple of days of R&R at Chobe National Park, Botswana and Livingstone, Zambia

At the end of every Habitat for Humanity build, there is a farewell or dedication ceremony for the family and the build team. The community gathered on July 18th to share in the dedication of two homes, one to Gertrude and her husband, Moffat, and one to Brenda.

Since the ceremony, our team has had a non-stop schedule and I haven’t had a chance to post anything about that day, or any of our time since. I have a feeling that I won’t have an opportunity until I’m on my own next week! Briefly, our farewell gathering was… well, I don’t know what other word to use besides joyous! There were emotional speeches by both women, and there was dancing… lots of dancing (dance troupe video and dance troupe, homeowners & build team video). And singing. A wonderful way for us to remember the lovely people we had a chance to spend time with and start to get to know. I will include photos, some video clips, and more detail when I have more time! And I will try my best to get a copy of the video of our team dancing, our team singing… and me getting pulled up to dance with the dance troupe that performed. That was a surprise!!! Those videos may not come until after our team gets back home and folks have an opportunity to edit and upload. But I promise… the footage will come! Some photos for now…

On Wednesday, our team took a bus from Lusaka to Livingstone, in the south of Zambia. We got up before 4:00am to catch a 5:30am bus… for a fairly nail-biting 6 hour drive! We were very, very relieved to arrive in one piece to our accommodation at Prana Tented Camp, about 10km outside of Livingstone. Again… more detail to come about our stay here but for now I’ll say… incredible!!!

Then today, Thursday, we drove an hour to cross the border at Kazungula, Zambia to arrive in Kasane, Botswana, where we then drove to Chobe National Park and spent the day with the animals. I can easily say… one of THE most memorable days of my entire life!!! We saw soooooo many animals and had a couple of rare opportunities, including watching an African elephant swim across the Chobe river. Yes… I got video!!! A taste of what we saw today… with more to come!

So… lots to tell when I have a chance to spend more time. The internet here is not always reliable but even when it is… it’s not as fast as at home. Not that I would expect it to be but it’s amazing how we take it for granted at home. Tomorrow, we’re off to Victoria Falls in the morning and then to Mosi oa Tunya Park just outside of Livingstone for a walking safari in the late afternoon to see White Rhinos!!! This has been the experience of a lifetime!!! Will post more when I can!

build day 7

Well… today was our last build day! Our Habitat team of 11, plus 4 tradespersons and several family members, started work on two houses just one week ago and remarkably can say that one house, Brenda’s, is complete and the other, Gertrude and Moffat’s, is almost finished! I worked on both sites today, starting on Brenda’s where we installed the glass panes on the windows, finished the mortar on the latrine, and generally just cleaned up the site.

We visited Linda Open Community School for lunch for the last time. The students loved when we came at lunch to play so we bought some soccer balls to leave for them and collectively donated money toward the purchase of books at their library. I had one last bit of fun with the students with some balloons I had brought which were a hit!

After lunch, because the other site was further behind, three of us joined the other half of the team for one last blitz to get as much done as possible. We also installed glass panes on the windows and spent a lot of time on the latrine, which hadn’t progressed as quickly as we hoped. There was also lots of buffing of the walls to clean up the mortar that thankfully I avoided! Toward the end of the day, Jeanette and Nathan pulled out some crayons and paper so the kids could colour and it was the first time we’d seen any of them settled and quiet! Wish we’d thought of that sooner!

Tomorrow will be our last day in the community. At the end of every Habitat build there is a farewell or dedication ceremony. Not all homes get completed in one build but we’ve pretty much completed two. There will be dancing and singing tomorrow and I expect it may get emotional for some of us on the team. If I manage to get a video of our dance routine, I’ll try to post it. Otherwise, Tammy will edit her version when she returns home and I’ll post once I get a copy! Well… I’ll see how goofy we look first! LOL! We’ll eat lunch in the Linda community tomorrow and then the build portion of our trip is done. After tomorrow, we can look forward to a few days of well-deserved R&R in Livingstone, Zambia and then Chobe National Park, Botswana!

I’ve been meaning to share some photos of our commute to/from the Linda community from Lusaka. Our lodge is in an area that could be described as upper-middle class. There are detached houses with yards that are surrounded by walls with a gate. Nearly every house has it’s own water tank. From what I could find in the news, it appears there has been a construction boom, particularly in urban areas and local authorities have not been able to meet the demand with infrastructure for water and sanitation services. As a result, many homeowners have taken the initiative to privately acquire the services of borehole drilling services to access ground water. I saw so many advertisements for borehole drilling services and so many residential homes with their own water tanks, it seemed to support this position. This has also created an environmental concern for the ability of aquifers to replenish the water supply. Pretty interesting cause and effect.

Sunday – our day of rest!

After a very labour-intensive and busy week, we were treated to a day away from the build site on Sunday. The team had provided input on things we were interested in doing and Joseph arranged our day.

Zambia is a very religious country and declared Christianity as the official religion in 1996, while upholding the right of every person to enjoy that person’s freedom of conscience or religion. There are many denominations of Christianity and Joseph arranged for us to attend a one-hour Pentecostal service in the morning at the Tabernacle of David Assembly in Lusaka. We thought there would be more singing and response from the congregation but after a choir performed one song, accompanied by a band, Bishop Harrison made a few announcements and then introduced Pastor Elijah Nyirenda who preached and ministered for over an hour and a half! That was not what we expected! The video is not from the service we attended but gives you an idea of what we experienced! When he (finally) finished, Bishop Harrison and Rev. Elizabeth Sakala extended a lovely invitation for coffee and tea.

Our next destination is the one that I looked forward to the most. Just outside of Lusaka proper, in the Lilayi area, is the Lilayi Elephant Nursery which is run by Game Rangers International (GRI), a Zambian conservation organization. GRI implements five projects, which includes the Elephant Orphanage Project, rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned elephants back into the wild. Orphaned elephants stay at Lilayi Elephant Nursery until they are three years old. The nursery ensures they receive adequate nutrition and medical attention, socialization with other elephants and wildlife, and round the clock devoted care. GRI currently has three elephants under the age of three and over ten elephants that were moved to Kafue National Park to the EOP Kafue Orphan Release Facility. Regretfully… I did not get the names of the three elephants we got to see as I was too busy watching them and forgot to write the names down. There are 2 males and one female and they range in age from 1 ½ years to 2 years old. All tragically lost their families somehow, often due to poaching and human conflict.

After lunch, we went to an outdoor market to explore. Many of us had hoped to go to a street market where the locals would shop. We passed one on Saturday but Joseph felt we would be safer at a ‘curio’ market (tourist market). I was disappointed with the vendors’ wares as they were all the same with very inflated prices. I did buy the one item I hoped to pick up on this trip, a chitenge, after negotiating the price with the vendor. I also found some small cute bags made out of chitenge fabric. Now, I’ll have to see if I can pull off a chitenge once back in Toronto!

build day 6 – Saturday!

Thank goodness we only work for a half-day on Saturday! Our muscles, joints, and bones are aching! I’m exhausted!!! I’ve got a couple of minor injuries this week and a lot of bruises! It’s amazing what happens on different builds and with different building materials. On my first Global Village build with Habitat, in Honduras, I cut my arm when I dropped a boulder we were using as part of the foundation. On the builds in Ethiopia and Cambodia, we used wood, dirt, bark, and some form of waterproof gypsum board (Cambodia build only). No injuries for me! Now we’re building a house with concrete blocks and I’m a mess! I was sawing rebar earlier this week and cut my arm. If I’d cut myself like that at home, I wouldn’t have even treated it but we have to report injuries here. I sprained a finger on my left hand. That actually was done when playing catch with some of the kids in the community! My inner forearms are completely scratched up from carrying concrete blocks. And I can’t even count how many bruises I have all over my legs and arms! Thankfully… nothing serious… for anyone on the team.

Back at Gertrude and Moffat’s house again and even though we were knocking off shortly after noon, there was a lot to do! This was one of our heaviest work days as Mighty, the site supervisor, wanted to ensure we reached a certain point in the build that day. We only have one build day left on Monday! Tuesday will be our farewell ceremony and there will be lots to celebrate! The time has just flown by. We worked on the floors in the house, filling them level with dirt then making sure the dirt was packed down by tamping it with a tamper and/or with concrete blocks. We poured a layer of gravel over the dirt and then had to tamp that down also. Tamping quickly became our least favourite activity. It’s exhausting!!!!!!! We then mixed concrete to pour the floors in the house, that Moffat then levelled. The latrine at this site was not as progressed as at Brenda’s site, so a few of us got to work on putting up more blocks on it.

I have to admit… I was pretty tired and needed a bit of downtime from the construction. I noticed that Gertrude had just come back with a pail of water and was about to go get more. I asked if I could help and we walked back to the water pump together, about 300m from her home. I asked if I could try carrying the water back on my head as the women do and she helped me heave it up! Some of the women there laughed at me! It was pretty heavy and with moving liquid in the pail, not very balanced. I watched Gertrude as she raised her pail on to her own head and quickly walked ahead of me, using only one hand on the pail for balance. I was much more deliberate with my steps and had to use two hands. I don’t think I spilled any though! When we got back to the site, I still didn’t feel up to more heavy work. The kids had found the soccer ball that Adam had brought and asked to play. So, I grabbed it and about 12 or so kids materialized to play catch. I just lobbed the ball up in the air and they lobbed it back. It was fun and they seemed to really enjoy it. And that’s how I got the sprained finger!

We left the site just after 12 noon and our first stop before lunch was the Lusaka Inter-City Bus Terminus. As a team, we needed to buy bus tickets for our R&R trip to Livingstone on Wednesday this week. I also had to buy a ticket individually as I will be travelling on my own after the team returns on July 22nd. Only a handful of us who needed to go into the terminal went as Joseph (our Habitat Zambia host) has been very protective of where we go while on Habitat time. The terminal was so chaotic and there were so many people trying to sell us stuff. We got our tickets but not without a lot of interesting characters interacting with us. I would have taken photos but I don’t think it’s the place you want to take out a camera.

After the bus terminal, we went to a mall and had pizza for lunch. It was delicious!!! We’ve visited a couple of malls as Joseph considers them to be safe. I haven’t described how we’ve spent our downtime this week at all. It’s been very restrictive. Leave the lodge after breakfast, go to the build site, come directly back to the lodge and eat dinner here. We haven’t had any opportunity to experience Lusaka or venture out on our own, which I’m used to with other Habitat builds. Joseph has not taken us anywhere in Lusaka to experience the people or the culture, outside of the Linda community where we build. Apparently, there have been some mishaps with Habitat teams in the past that have caused concern and so the safest thing is for us to be at our lodge or in more affluent areas. We’ve gone to a couple of grocery stores to stock up on snacks that are in malls that are located in what I think are more upper middle class areas. There are detached homes in these areas but they are behind concrete block walls with barbed wire. I haven’t taken photos of the areas as we only drive through them and never stop. A few of us, who have travelled before, are feeling a little confined but when on a build trip with Habitat, the best thing to do is go with the flow and be flexible. Joseph knows things about Lusaka that we don’t. It is still frustrating though. I will be travelling by myself starting on July 23rd and will have to go the bus terminal alone. That is how I would normally travel but there are definitely liability considerations while we are still on Habitat time.

We were supposed to visit a market on Saturday afternoon but apparently it closed at noon. So after lunch and some time at the mall, we came back to the lodge for the evening.

build day 5

Back to Brenda’s site again on Friday. We’ve made a lot of progress on this site… with Gertrude and Moffat’s house not far behind. Friday was a bit of an easier day. It didn’t feel like we had to do as much of the heavier work. When we arrived at the site, the guys got us set up to install a metal frame with bars on the windows. It was a very interesting process… use a hammer to bash a hole in the wall that the brackets can sit in, then use mortar to fill in the gaping hole. I’m sure we could have made smaller holes but we follow instructions and don’t question the process. While we did that, Amion and Enock started installing the corrugated metal roof on the house. It’s really coming together and starting to look like a real house! Once the roof was on, we filled in the gaps between the blocks and the roof with more blocks and mortar. Most of the holes and spaces get filled in to seal the house. There will be two air grates that will remain open above both of the windows.

Just before lunch, I took a little break to pull out some knitting to see if Margaret and Aliness might be interested. In the past when I’ve travelled and have been knitting my own work, I’ve had people interested and ask questions and I sometimes will try and teach them. So, for this trip, I brought some extra yarn and needles, just in case. To my surprise, they both already knew how to knit (and crochet)! Margaret said she taught herself and indeed, it looked like she had watched someone do it and replicated the mirror image. It seemed backward to any knitting technique I’ve seen but still was effective. Aliness took the knitting needles and used them to crochet! Like I’ve said before, these folks can make tools out of anything and are very creative about it. Their aunt, also a knitter, dropped by and showed Margaret how to start a baby bonnet. Apparently football (soccer) is not the only universal language!

Aliness crochets
Aliness used knitting needles that I brought to crochet a bag.

We had lunch again at the school and afterward, were taken on a tour by the principle, Doreen. We dropped in several classrooms with students from different grades and they all stood and said ‘hello’ to us in unison. The school has a computer lab with about 20 older Dell CPUs and monitors. They had all been donated by an organization from Ireland. I’ve learned that Ireland is a big contributor to charitable endeavours in Africa. Habitat Ireland did a build just before our team in Ethiopia. The school also has a new science lab that was built in the last year. Doreen would like to be able to add three more rooms to accommodate high school grades. The school would need additional funding/donations to accomplish that but I have no doubt she’ll do it. She has a lot of conviction about the benefits and outcomes of a strong education.

In the afternoon, we were shown how to smooth the walls by taking a broken piece of concrete and using it like a pumice stone on the rough mortar edges around the blocks. It was a very tedious job which none of us liked and surprisingly, we all would have preferred mixing mortar. Some of the team continued working on the latrine with Enock and got the door frames installed and more blocks up. And then all of a sudden… it was time to leave the site for the day. Another day tomorrow!

build day 4

I finally got a full night’s sleep Wednesday night!!! And no migraine Thursday at all! My adjustment to jet lag has taken a lot longer than usual. Normally when I travel, I have no trouble sleeping when my head hits the pillow. It’s SO unlike my sleeping pattern at home. While the lodge we are staying in is lovely and clean, and the staff are so accommodating… the walls are paper thin and noise travels easily. It wasn’t until last night that I thought of popping in some earplugs. Et voila!

I switched build sites today and worked on Gertrude and Moffat’s house. Our team worked on concrete blocks and mortar, trimming the mortar joins, and staining the ceiling beams. I was on concrete block and mortar duty all day! Felix, the tradesman on this site, had me up on the high scaffold working on the blocks that ramp up for the roof so it can be slanted. The blocks were made ahead of when we arrived but sometimes a full size block is too big and we have to resize it. That’s done with a hammer by chipping away at the block (and hopefully not breaking it). Where an area is too small for a block, then we used mortar to fill it. It was like I was icing a cake! I just spread the mortar with a trowel so it was level, then flush with the blocks below. Folks who know my lack of affinity to the kitchen would be very impressed with my “baking” skills.

We are fortunate to get to interact with a lot of people in the community. Some folks have passed by and asked with what are we helping; some will stop for a quick conversation; some will ask for some of our water or food. For lunch each day, we’ve gone to the Linda Open Community School, an elementary school with 1,500 students from grades 1 to 9. As soon as we get off the bus, the children in the school yard come running toward us. The students, and the other children in the community we are working in, are filled with curiosity and excitement! Some of us have brought toys to share with the kids when we are on-site, like a soccer ball or a skipping rope. We have to take them away at the end of the day but we can leave them with Habitat Zambia to arrange distribution when we’re gone. The kids go absolutely crazy when we bring out anything to play with. And the younger kids that come to play are really sweet and adorable!

I did not take many photos today. I have included a couple of photos of Tammy, our team lead, meeting some neighbourhood women at the end of the day. And check out the two videos of some of the kids we’ve met (video one and video two).

build day 3

I’m a few days behind! Our power was out for two nights then our WiFi has been out since my last post until today. It’s amazing how dependent we’ve become with our devices and technology… and I don’t feel like I’m as connected as some folks. But 4 days without WiFi sure provides a different perspective.

build day 3

Wednesday was a busy and very productive day. I was working at Brenda’s site again and we worked on more concrete blocks and mortar, sawing rebar, staining wood ceiling beams, and pouring concrete for the latrine. For the mortar yesterday, we added stones for more stability to use in lintel frames. I picked up a shovel each time and got in there. By the end of the day, I could really feel the muscles in my shoulder blades aching… but in a good way! I got to work directly with both of the trades guys, Enock and Amion, on the lintels for the doors and windows. We poured mortar down the sides of the door frames and used boards as concrete forms to pour it across the top of the doors and windows. I got the hang of it and Enock told me to do one on my own! The coolest part for me was Amion telling me “bweeno kwambiri” (I’m sure that’s not spelled correctly!). That is Nyanja for “very good”! While the official language of Zambia is now English, there are over 70 dialects that are spoken through the country. Nyanja is the language spoken in the Linda community where we are building. I’m picking up some phrases as we go and they get a kick out of it. And sometimes laugh at me! I also sawed rebar and Amion amazed us when he used a tree trunk as a vice to straighten the rebar. It is so ingenious what how different objects get turned into tools (like the playing card I used as a putty knife in Cambodia)!

where to start? build day 2

It’s been a jam-packed schedule and we’ve made the most of our time on build day 2! We are all sore and exhausted… it was an amazing day! And I don’t really know where to start… all I can warn is that this will likely be a long entry. (I also suspect I will come back to some of these entries to add details I’ve not captured immediately. The Wifi is spotty and we’re very lucky to have it at all.)

After breakfast at our lodge and a 40 minute ride to the build site in the community of Linda, just outside of Lusaka, we found out we were switching homes to work on. We had split the team up yesterday to work on the two separate houses and to ensure we all have an opportunity to get to know both families. My team worked at the alternate house from yesterday. Today we worked at Brenda Mumba’s home. Brenda’s husband died several years ago and she now cares for their children (2) and grandchildren (3). She has been terminally ill for some time and unemployed. One of her grandchildren is also quite ill. Her 22 year old son, Ophen, started working 4 years ago and supports the family. I met one of her children, Margaret (15), and one of her grandchildren, Aliness (12), today.

We are building brick homes that are less than 250 ft square for each family. The rooms are simple construction of 3 square rooms that measure 9ft x 9ft. Most families with this construction use all 3 rooms for bedrooms and the kitchen is outside, although these homes were designed to have the middle room as the living/kitchen space. A pit latrine will be constructed in the back as part of this build. The family only has access to a neighbour’s pit latrine, three houses down. None of the homes in the community have plumbing and very few have electricity.

All of today was spent laying concrete blocks and all that entails. I earned my blisters mixing mortar today!!! And scratched up my forearms pretty good hauling concrete blocks. But my city-dweller lifestyle shone through when 15 year old Margaret put me to shame when she easily lifted 8 blocks into a wheelbarrow and navigated them across the cluttered build site. I tried and nearly tipped the wheelbarrow! I was only able to move 4 blocks without incident!

Habitat Zambia has hired some tradespeople for the build. Mighty, the supervisor, is quite a character and always has a huge smile on his face. He spent about 10 minutes on our first day explaining what the “primary builder’s tool” is, a trowel, and for what it is used. It was hilarious when he showed us which end was the handle! He’s got a great sense of humour and has had many teams without any building experience. On Brenda’s build site today, we worked with Enock and Amion, who both live in the community. It’s so interesting to speak with the people involved in the build and spend time getting to know about their lives and culture. Amion was pretty interested in Canadian building materials but had a hard time understanding what are insulation and moisture barrier wrap. We’re bringing some photos tomorrow.

There were a couple of times today when we heard singing. Once was when I saw a group of women taking containers to the community water pump to get water. The second time, I heard the singing before I saw anyone and rushed to get my camera out. I managed to get a quick, discreet video of what turned out to be a funeral procession going past our build site.

We’ve had lunch at the Linda Open Community School both days so far. The school cook, Beatrice, makes a delicious and plentiful lunch for us! Nshima (pronounced shee-ma) is the main staple in Zambia, made of cornmeal and water. It’s like a dense porridge and you can roll it into a ball and scoop up vegetables, sauces, or stews with it. It’s soooooo good!!! I spent some time today after lunch speaking with Doreen, the school’s principal, about the importance of education and the struggle she has with families in the community. For instance, Margaret told me she stayed home from school today to collect water for our concrete mixing. Doreen said that happens frequently and the school tries very hard to impress upon parents the consequences of absences, most significantly, that a child cannot be successful in life without an education.

Dinner tonight was at our lodge. We were to meet early to rehearse! One thing our team lead, Tammy, does on builds is choreograph a group dance to perform for our final farewell. We’ve practiced twice so far and Adam, from the team, seems to be picking up the routine the best! His two daughters both dance and he’s totally into it. Tammy has promised not to film any of our rehearsals to ensure none of us sees the routine in advance and then decides to drop out. LOL. Should be fun! Just before we were about to rehearse, the power went off in the lodge. Not surprising and we were prepared with candles and flashlights… oh, and some wine and beer. Until they got the generator working and dinner was ready.

smooth moves
Not only is Adam the dance captain of our team but he scored a lot of points with the kids with a football.

Time for bed. My roommate Diane is already asleep and we have another early day tomorrow.
(And I’ve just noticed that some of the photos are blurry once posted… but I’ll have to fix that later.)