How was Zambia?

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I’ve just come back from spending a couple of weeks in Zambia with my family, working on aid projects with the fantastic folks from Mission Direct.

We had an absolutely fantastic time out there, which I really want to share with all of the folks that encouraged us by supplying stuff we took out, donations towards building materials and, perhaps most valuably of all, kind words of support.

The main construction work was on a couple of projects, one at Kiine School, which serves the Kaunda Square compound, and Kumbaya School in the Chaisa compound. We also had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with other projects in Lusaka that MD support, which really helped understand the need and background. Having seen how much even tiny amounts of money and resources can do when put directly into local projects we are incredibly grateful for literally every penny, dress and T-shirt that folks sent us out with.

We got back home late last Saturday, and to be honest I’m still processing everything I saw and did in Lusaka but everyone wants to know how we got on and, in summary, I think that this was possibly the most fruitful and positive two weeks of my life!

My family only signed up for this around Easter, and the run up to meeting our team of 16 folks from all over the country at Heathrow late on the 5th July was a bit of a whirlwind. It didn’t help that somehow my big mouth, and innate ability to boss people around got me elected team coordinator – in truth this wasn’t particularly onerous, it merely involved setting up some comms so that we could stay in touch and plan the journey, arrange to meet at Heathrow etc. The good bit of a 20-hour journey to Lusaka is that there was plenty of time to start getting to know each other, and it was at that point that I realised what a fantastic group of people I was going to be with for the next couple of weeks.

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After the rigorous order and bustle of Heathrow and Dubai airports, arrival at Lusaka set the scene for our culture shift. No air bridge or tugs, on arrival the huge Emirates A340 just pulls up on the last bit of spare concrete as close as it can get to the terminal building directly behind an Ethiopian 737 which is in poll position and pointing back out towards the runway. We embark down the steps and are left to find our own way into the terminal building. Inevitably people loiter on the tarmac to take photos in front of the plane, probably not at all a good idea, but nobody pays much attention.

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Eventually we find the entrance to the terminal building and queue to buy our visas at immigration. Although there are multiple kiosks and queues, each with a strict category: (Zambian Nationals, Zambian resident permit holders, Others/Tourists, and Diplomats), these seem to be largely ignored and a group of of 16 Azungus each needing a Business Visa, arriving at immigration rush hour seems to get us moved from queue to queue randomly.

Visas stamped, and luggage collected, we walk out through the double doors to the waiting arms of Colin, Geoff, Mannie, Mr Chika (our driver for the week) and Ruth, the local Mission Direct Team. The very first thing they did once the luggage was loaded on the bus was dish out ice cold bottles of water, a small thing, but incredibly welcome.

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Our first evening simply consisted of introductions, dinner and bed. The cottages are fine, basically cozy and secure with comfortable beds. There is hot and cold running water. This is clean although not apparently too safe to drink for our fragile western stomachs so we have a fridge full of bottled water yay.

Day 2 – First building day

For our first day, we hardly move off-site. We will be working on the floor slab for the new toilets at Kiine school in the morning, and this is in the same compound as the cottages so we just collect tools from a shipping container and walk up to the building site. On the way, we are greeted and welcomed to the School by Gloria, the head teacher. P1050782.JPG

Then it’s sleeves rolled up and start working by moving and levelling a load of soil and quarry waste which will form the sub-base to the new floor slab inside the already constructed foundations.

The fantastic folks at Autographer loaned me one of their life-logging devices for the trip, and I wore it around the site to try and capture some time lapse of the building work progressing. You basically wear their device and it takes 1000s of photos a day of it’s own accord, using sensors (PIR, accelerometer, GPS) and a built in algorithm to determine when something interesting is happening. Unfortunately it decides that standing around drinking water or chatting to other people is interesting, but moving around the site isn’t so I end up with literally thousands of photos of breaks, but none whilst I’m actually working, which rather defeated the point for my particular use. It is still a brilliant device and I can see lots of uses for it, but the algorithm doesn’t seem to work well for this particular case (could well be user error though).

Predictably, I’m the first industrial accident of the week as I run a wheelbarrow off the side of one of the ramps and end up in an embarrassing heap of barrow and dirt. At least the rest of the team know what they are dealing with now!

Kaunda Square

After a sandwich lunch, we are off for a walk around Kaunda Square, the adjacent residential area served by the School and Church in our compound.

Before we flew out to Zambia, I Googled for the place we were staying and found this video, made by a previous trip. The video is actually a great primer for the general background, but after the pictures of snakes (we saw none during our time in Zambia), and commentary about Kaunda Square being somewhere that we couldn’t go without a minder, I was really quite nervous about our venture into the wider world.

I became even more nervous when we split up into small groups, I was the only bloke in our group, and the “minder” assigned to our group was a teenage girl.

In reality, the video had given me misleading picture, we needed no “minder”, Memory was there for her local knowledge to guide us around the area. In Kaunda Square as every other place we went to in Zambia, the folks were friendly, respectful and very, very welcoming. Sure a few folks tried to hustle us to buy stuff in the market, but the only even vaguely unwelcome attention we received was from a couple of over friendly drunks as we walked through the bar area of Kaunda Square, and even then it was just the kind of OTT friendliness you get from amiable drunks anywhere in the world. I felt safer there than in some times and places in my home town!

More tomorrow on the other building project: Kumbaya School and the Fountain of Hope project.

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