Mole in the Hole

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

logo MITHThe Heterogonite Caper


For some days now, the gates of Chambishi Mine had seen a queue of lorries, laden up with sacks of material, with their drivers and hangers on sat about the place, cooking up nshima and smoking rolled up cigarettes that had no tobacco but something far better in them! I had given it no thought as I carried on into work, some rail track needed repair and I had been given a gang of men to supervise. Later, when popping into the office to see Dave Lagar, the engineer in charge, I noted with some amusement the clamour emanating from the accounts department which seemed to be besieged by a bunch of noisy, voluble people demanding money. As the days passed, the queue of lorries grew and the situation in the accounts department had developed into what could only be described as a madhouse.


Then, one day, a lad called Peter Le somebody or other (His surname is unimportant, he became known as Peter Le Plonker very quickly) summoned me. He was the Engineer in charge of the Heterogonite project. Huh? What’s that? It is a cobalt ore which has bits and pieces of nickel, tin and copper mixed up in a conglomerate mix of junk, hence Heterogonite, very much akin to that famous favourite material of Geologists, Fubarite (f***ed up beyond all recognition!). It was hacked out of holes in the ground inKatangaby “Artisanal Miners” in conditions and at rates of pay akin to the Siberian Salt mines, apart from the weather of course. The material was purchased by middlemen, packed up in sacks, loaded up on to trucks and sent off down the road from theCongo. The idea was that the lorries were randomly sampled, if found to be low in nickel etc but containing at least 4% Cobalt then the material was brought in, weighed, the cobalt content ascertained and then Avmin, bless their cotton socks, was paying out  40% of the London Metal market price; at that time running at $24 per pound. A quick bit of arithmetic gives you an idea; a truck laden with 20 tonnes of material at 4% gives you a total of 0.8 of a tonne of cobalt or 1975 lbs. This means that Avmin would then pay out $18960, and they were, cheques made out to cash at the bank inNdola! It had all got too much for Peter and the accounts department, where Bertie Brink, the chief accountant, and Dave Cole, his assistant, were sinking under the weight of rowdy Congolese! In fact all had become so rowdy that no one could do any work at all in the main offices. I was instructed to take over the operation, utilising part of the First Aid Post at the main gate.


All was to be controlled there and no one was to be allowed beyond there unless they were issued a pass from me so that they could collect their cheques when I was notified that they had been made out. When to start? Immediately! Leaving my merry men mucking about with rails I went over to the main gate and with a little bit of coercion managed to acquire one bare room. No sooner than that was achieved when I had to fend off a takeover attempt by the mine police. Having done that I went in search of furniture, one tatty desk was all that could be found but that was supplemented by chairs and a table from home, along with my old lap top computer.


Now the whole procedure was examined. The samplers were brought in and given the revs, they must choose their own random samples, not take those given to them. Next the whole weigh bridge system was examined. Tallies issued by the weigh bridge indicated that every truck arriving from theCongowas grossly overloaded. On checking it was found that this was indeed the case at times but not the norm. I was still puzzling this out at end of shift when out of the gate drove the weighbridge operator in his car, followed by the Assay Lab boss in a motor car better than mine! By the end of day one it became obvious that Avmin was being taken for a huge ride by these naughty tortoises. It was so bad that we discovered that some guys had just gone back up the road to a laterite pit, filled up sacks, came back, bribed the weighbridge operator to give them an inflated weight and then dealt with the assay problem by the distribution of gifts and the presentation of special sample rocks. The boss of the weigh bridge and Assay Lab did not believe that he could be so hoodwinked until I put an imaginary truck over the weighbridge and got the “foolproof” system to provide me with a result that the thin air on the imaginary truck weighed 35 tonnes and the sample taken of the thin air was 10% Cobalt and this was just what had been happening over the last two weeks. He adopted a lofty air and told me that if I could do better then I should! With that he washed his hands of the whole affair and stalked off to do what metallurgists do best; rob miners blind!


During this initial day or two the queue got longer and longer and I found myself besieged by the same Congolese, demanding that their pure cobalt ore be admitted so that they could go back and get more junk to fool us with. I needed assistance and there, by a stroke of luck, it came, in the form of two extraordinary characters, Rowley Shaw and Gerard Fagan. Together we tackled the problem. Rowley went off and weighed every truck, Gerard got on to my computer and produced a remarkable contract document to the effect that to get in the gate you had to pay for your material to be crushed, that if it did not come up to snuff then you had to pay for it to be picked up and taken away and if you did not do so then the material was confiscated.


For that was then the nub of the problem. The material had to be crushed fine and then a decent sampling process could be carried out. Now, as the Congolese had never ever been in any deal that the opposition was always trying to cheat them, we inaugurated an independent assay process carried out by the International company; Alfred H Knight. This was headed up by two bluff North Country chaps who would stand no nonsense from anyone, be they Congolese, or worse, rum buggers who had lived south ofThames! Now the Chinese had a stone crusher that was ideal for the job and, after a bit of hard bargaining, we were allowed to use it. Of course, the day that the Americans dropped a bomb on the Chinese embassy inSerbiadid cause a problem. We managed in the end to persuade them that Avmin was a South African company, not American and all was saved when Nelson Mandela condemned the bombing!  Once the process got going the 12% cobalt ore seemed to vanish and the best we got was 3%! In the short time that Avmin had begun accepting the material they must have lost millions in false claims. Peter Le Plonker became suspicious of all this activity that he was too busy to get involved with, after all, he was trying to grow a moustache, so sent a spy, young Leon to watch over us. A very pleasant lad he turned out to be once we had corrupted him and he picked up a bit of English and became an integral part of the team; after all, who else could be spared to whip up to Chingola and pick up a box of jam doughnuts from Shoplift!


The issue of the contracts, the scrutiny at the weighbridge, the assays being properly carried out stopped the whole lot dead in its tracks. Now and again a man would come in and give in his sample results, he had obviously slipped something to the sampler but it stood out like the proverbial dogs balls, and the man was taken back to his pile, made to sample all himself under supervision, made to pay for the new assays and when they came back at the correct values told to take his junk away and never to darken Avmin’s door again. Of course, someone would evade the whole process. In came a huge slob of a man, an ex Springbok rugby player with highly placed relations in the mining industry. He breezed in, refused to deal with such lowly minions as myself, a quick phone call, Peter Le Plonker arrived at the gate, escorted him, bowing and scraping to Ed Munnick’s office. He told Ed that he had 40 tonnes of good material, produced an Assay certificate from theCongothat said it was 10% cobalt and please to allow him to offload the stuff and be given, at once, a suitable cheque for his endeavours. Ed, being the gentleman that he was, immediately assumed that an ex Springbok would never tell porkies and issued instructions. I remonstrated but was told to get on and offload the stuff. A cheque was made out and off the man went. Of course, the stuff was junk and a sadder but wiser Ed never made the same mistake again.


All of a sudden there were many less Congolese at the gate. There was a persistent Mr. Patel who just refused to accept his results, demanded recounts left, right and centre and then took his stuff away, no doubt, to try and sell the material to someone more gullible. And gullible were the replacement people at the gate. The story had got round that megabucks could be made “auCongo”. People were heading up in a taxi to Lumumbashi, where “Facilitateurs” (fat, smiling, dripping gold, with double chins at the back of their necks) met at the border would introduce them to “Metal traders”, who just so happened to have a small amount of very good Heterogonite for sale. A deal was struck, the person would return to Zambia, a lorry hired and off they went to collect the material, paying Kwacha, cash money, a perfectly acceptable currency. In the same currency they paid off the export permit dealers, the vultures in Customs at Kasumbulesa, and arrived, all hot and bothered, but triumphant at last, at the Chambishi Gate. Into the process they went only to discover, to their horror, that they had been sold junk, that they had to pay for all to be taken away and that the owner of the lorry wanted immediate payment. The distress of so many people was hard to behold, a wealthy widow impoverished, the family that had scraped all their assets together only to have them disappear into the crafty Katangan maw.


A plan was made. No one would be dealt with unless they had applied for a contract before their buying trip. When they came in they were warned of the sundry perils. They were told how to be able to take representative samples and urged to bring those down for assay before going further. It saved some people a lot of money but many more were blinded by the prospect of wealth and heartbreak and ruination continued. This went on for some time until the metallurgists started to treat the stuff. They found that their Larox filters kept gumming up and they could not treat the material the way they had wanted to so decided to stop buying the stuff until their slag smelter was ready and they could chuck the stuff in there. By that time I had long gone, recalled to the colours yet again, this time to fix 50 km of underground railways and, horror, horror, the ruddy slag tunnel tracks yet again!


Book Review

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

logo Book ReviewA Wake of Vultures

by Mary Earnshaw


This is a book that draws its excitement from the hazards, isolation and intrigues of life in the bush. Mary Earnshaw locates her novel in the South Luangwa and her characters and set are believable for anyone who has had the opportunity to visit one of our many game parks in Zambia. So it goes without saying that it also offers a panoramic view for the uninitiated.


The story begins with a murder and then trails the lives of safari operators, their staff, and Zambian colleagues in the local security agencies. It successfully intertwines their relationships with the daily life which envelop our camps.


Forming a diversionary backdrop are the visiting bands of student-tourists that have become a common feature in recent times, so the novel has a contemporary currency that is refreshing. We’ve come a long way from Hemingway’s day! But as they say: ‘Plus ca change…plus c’est la meme chose!’ and the plot and its characters eventually take recognisable shape in ‘not-too-predictable’ turns of events.


Purchase your copy from Planet Books, Arcades in Lusaka for K150,000, alternatively, look for the book through publishers ‘Cosi & Veyn’ (an imprint of Western Academic & Specialist Press) ©2012. Twenty-five percent of the profits from the sales of this book go to the University of Liverpool Africa Endowment Fund established by Mary’s husband for the purpose of building a heritage centre in the LuangwaValley.


Post Dated

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

In today’s world with an estimated 294 billion emails being sent and received daily it is hard to imagine that only one hundred and twenty years ago, in today’s Zambia, mail was carried by ‘runners’ who set off from one place to the next carrying a bag of mail over their shoulder.  With 9 October being World Postal Day and commemorating the establishment of the Universal Postal Union in 1874, we decided to look back at how the post got around at the turn of the last century.


Administrators of the British South Africa Company also had, as part of their duties, the functions of a Postmaster. The administrator at each BOMA had responsibility of the postage stamps and the cancellation or defacing stamp or what we know as the post mark. They also had responsibility for receiving the post when it arrived and sending the mail that was waiting to go. This was no easy feat as in the earliest days when the mail was carried by runners. Tales abound of lions, crocodiles, rhinos, robberies and rebellions interfering with the delivery of the all important mail. The runners themselves must have been incredibly fit and one would have thought that this job would be reserved for youngsters. Yet, atFortRoseberry(now Mansa) one of the runners was still active after thirty years of service and it was estimated that he had run 120,000 miles and carried 60,000 lbs of mail! When the railway line was built, some runners were still kept on to service the post offices which were not along the line of rail. Some post offices were merely roadside huts which were built to service travelers and prospectors who were moving around the country looking for minerals. Some post offices were built to deal with emergencies such as an outbreak of sleeping sickness or, in the northern part of the country, to check on slave-raiders.


A well-known story is the one where the mail destined forFortJameson(now Chipata) was ‘eaten’ by lions.  The official notification of this mishap, as published in ‘The Romance of the Posts of Rhodesia’ by H C Dann, is quoted below:


No. 340/07.


11th September, 1907.

I regret to report that the carriers conveying the European and Colonial mails due to arrive here on the 8th inst. were attacked by lions at about 8 o’clock in the evening of the 2nd – near Mlilo’s village some ten miles from Petauke.

The men abandoned their loads and set fire to the grass in order to escape, making their way to the village during the night. They were, as usual, armed with a snider rifle and cartridges, which they used, and appear to have set fire to the grass in a state of abject fear. The following morning on searching for the bags, four were found to be missing — some letters and papers, partly burnt, were, however, found, on which teeth marks were plainly visible.


Upon reporting the matter to the Native Commissioner at Petauke, police and messengers were immediately despatched in search for the missing bags, one of which, from Southampton, was found at a spot more than two miles from Mlilo’s village. It was very much torn and gnawed. and had evidently been carried away by the lions. Some of the contents, I fear, must have been destroyed. The Police also found some burnt remains of letters and papers. With the exception of theSouthamptonbag all the English mail was received correctly, and in no way damaged. Up to the present I have received no further news of the missing bags, l am afraid there is small hope of their recovery.


The following are missing:-Bulawayobag of the 23rd August (withSalisburyof the 21st enclosed), one of the Livingstone bags of the 24th August, and Broken Hill of the 26th (with Kalomo of the 24th enclosed).


(signed) H. A. BALDOCK, Comptroller of Posts and Telegraphs.


But not all mail runners were as brave and as reliable as the runners involved in the lion incident. A group of runners working on a stretch south of theZambeziRiverfailed in their duties. Again we quote from ‘The Romance of the Posts of Rhodesia’

“A bunch of runners let us down badly once; why, we never found out. They were on a stretch south of the River Zambesi. They took over the bags from the runners coming south, so that the letters we sent reached their destinations regularly but they had nothing in the way of mails for us in the north. This was in 1898. We had gathered from the last mail received, which was sometime in September – mails took three months to come fromEnglandin those days – that there was trouble with the French over Fashoda. For three months, that is until December, we received no more mails. We concluded thatEnglandwas at war withFranceand that we – in the excitement of it all – had been forgotten; evenBulawayoseemed to have forgotten us! We in theBarotseValleyvery nearly declared war on the French Protestant missionaries who had been established in the valley for some years. However, as you know,there was no war withFrance. A transport rider coming up the Old Hunters’ Road to the Kazungula Drift on the Zambesi with our wet season’s supply of stores, found our accumulated mails stuck up in some trees by the wayside. So we eventually received three months’mails in one day, and were quite surprised to find no reference to the war withFrance.


The responsibility for the mails usually fell to the District Officer who would delegate some of his responsibilities to one of his African clerks. Bearing in mind that many of the Africans were unable to read or write at the time, this made for some curiosities in the defacing of stamps. The old defacing stamps had removable type and often errors or inverted letters were seen. It was also well known that sometimes the proper stamp would be mislaid so whoever had responsibility that day would use whatever was available and this was often the office rubber stamp. The colour of ink was also of no concern in the outlying areas and if the correct colour ink pad had dried up, whatever was available would be used. To give reinforcement to the notion that here in Zambia we always ‘make a plan’ one administrator reported that he had even seen brown inks which, to him, looked suspiciously like blood!


Such were things inZambiain those days and as life becomes faster and more hectic, I for one would be quite happy to return to those slower languid days because I am convinced that I receive in my inbox every day a significant proportion of those 294 billion emails that are sent.



Birds, Bugs and Bushes

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

Birds, Bugs and Bushes 1The Flap Necked Chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis)


It was the ancient Greeks who called them chamai leon, “dwarf lions”. When surprised, a chameleon will inflate its body, open its mouth to show its bright orange palette, hiss and lunge forward. Such behavior that is intended to confuse, surprise and frighten any attacker regardless of size, could be the reason the Greeks called them such. For all its size, the flap necked chameleon displays a tenacious attitude towards its adversaries. It goes by a variety of local names some are naluntambwe, fulunyemba, nantambwe,


With its distinctive shape, bulging conical eyes, ponderous movements and ability to change colour, flap necked chameleons are well known reptiles. Found throughout most of Africa, they inhabit savanna woodlands mostly and where ever they find suitable habitat that will afford them cover and food. They are also common to rare residents in urban backyard gardens and orchards, where they live in the numerous fruit trees and shrubs, preying on flies, beetles and grasshoppers, which are their main food.


These fairly large chameleons, measuring between 20 cm and 25 cm in length, are usually bright green to dark green, sometimes with yellow spots to brown or black depending upon mood and background. Though a chameleon is a strictly solitary creature, they only pair up to breed, where mating can last a good while. After a period of between two to three months the heavily pregnant female, digs a burrow or hole in which she will deposit up to 35 eggs. She will then cover up the clutch and leave them, never to return. After 150 days the eggs hatch, the young dig their way out of the hole to the surface and are independent immediately they are born, equipped to catch insects the moment they are freed from their sandy cribs.


Flap necked chameleons are heavily preyed upon by two, tree dwelling snakes, namely the boomslang and the vine snake. Other predators are small raptors, horn bills, crows, ravens and shrikes. Man however is their greatest enemy and threat. It has been noticed by some that chameleons are not as common as they used to be in the urban backyards and even on some farm lands. The use of garden pesticides to kill off insect pests, many of which are the chameleons natural prey has ended in the direct poisoning of chameleons. The destruction of their natural habitat and the horrible effects of late burning kills thousands of chameleons.


Another danger to them are the superstitions that surround these fascinating reptiles. A number of people fear them, a lot of fables surround chameleons, but they are just that – fables!! They do not bite with their tails; they are not poisonous and they do not commit suicide in order to give birth by throwing themselves off a tree so that on hitting the ground they burst open and release their young. All these fables have resulted in the unnecessary persecution of these creatures; they are clubbed, stoned, burnt, drowned and run over on the roads. Yet theses reptiles are really harmless and do us much good in our gardens by keeping a check on the insects that prey upon our edible vegetables and fruits. This is why some people call flap necked chameleons the “garden lizards”.

In The Garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

logo In The Garden 2October … heat … sun … and in the garden, time to mulch! Try to shield all bare soil from the direct sun. You can use tree bark, leaves, stones, even shredded newspaper. But the best is to plant a groundcover. A groundcover plant is an effective protection and is usually the most attractive to look at. Groundcovers are many and various. You can use ajuga reptans atropupurea, the purple-leaved perennial plant with a blue flower spike that will spread fairly rapidly over a patch of soil. Its common name is carpet bugle. And it is happiest in full sun but will also grow well in light shade.  Ajuga should be split and re-planted after 2 to 3 years. Another choice is the simple chlorophytum, or Hen-and-chickens; it may have green or striped leaves and easily covers ground under trees as well as in sun. It needs little water.


Ivy, especially the dark green large-leaved ivy, makes a striking groundcover on slopes or under trees but will also grow in full sun. It should be watered well once a week. Pennyroyal is a good choice to plant between old railway sleepers or paving as it has a lovely minty fragrance when you step on it. It is very low and flat and covers the soil completely. It needs water and occasionally needs re-planting. Thyme can also be used in this way and forms a dense mat of vegetation. I highly recommend liriope, also called lily turf, for a maintenance free, long-lasting perennial that goes on and on without any attention needed. It is also very attractive, either the green or the variegated striped leaf forming a grass-like mound about 30cm. high. It has a short insignificant spike of tiny bell-shaped flowers resembling lily-of-the-valley without the smell!


Mondo grass with its dark green fronds also seems to go on for ever and will grow well in semi-shade.  It is small and neat but rather dull. Tradescantia or Wandering Jew comes in many varieties and one of the best and easiest is zebrina, with striped leaves. The purple setcreasea can look wonderful in deep shade if given good soil and frequent water. In full sun, one of the best options is erigeron. It quickly covers the ground and is continuously in flower with tiny white daisy blooms. It is very long-lasting and does not need to be split but can be given a haircut if it gets too big. I also use the little pink-flowered crassula in hot, dry places.


But let’s get back to mulch. Leave your leaves where they fall if you are short of water. A lawn covered with fallen leaves does not look “manicured” but is far better than dry brown grass if you have no water. When you do rake, please use a rubber rake. Metal and plastic rakes catch on the grass runners and yank them out of the ground. In the vegetable garden you can use a green manure, especially comfrey leaves. This wonderful plant should be in every garden where vegetables are grown. It is extremely easy to propagate as it will grow a new plant from a broken piece of root.  The leaves can be chopped off the plant and it will re-grow. Cover the soil with the leaves and as it breaks down it will supply extra minerals to the soil.


If you have enough compost, spread a fine layer about 1 cm thick over the lawn. Don’t forget to leave the sprinkler on the compost heap once a week to keep it damp. Grass requires nourishment but avoid Compound D and Urea as they kill the earthworms. Earthworms are magic in the garden! Invest in an earthworm farm (Ecobiz Farms – Ruth – or 0977 771-172) and transform your kitchen waste into the richest form of compost you could ever wish to have.

Eating Out

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

Eating OutEating out with children is often quite a stressful time and one which can lead a parent to wishing they had left their brood behind and sneaked off for a quiet coffee by themselves.  We all have stories to tell of badly behaved children at restaurants and cafes, but it’s different when they are yours!  Obviously any parent taking their child out to a proper restaurant complete with silver service, pristine table settings and Mozart in the background is asking for trouble if they expect their child to sit there the whole time, minding its Ps and Qs and waiting patiently as each course is served.


However, for most of us eating out with children means trying by all means to get them to sit still for at least five minutes, not playing under the table and not dissecting their food with their hands, spilling their milkshake, or having a tantrum and disturbing other diners. Unfortunately, despite our good weather, Zambia does not offer much in the way of outside dining and not everywhere caters for the needs of children.


Shopping at one of Lusaka’s large shopping malls can be a daunting experience when you have children to tow around.  The Mugg and Bean at Manda Hill offers a children’s activity area which has proved a life saver for me on more than one occasion.  However, on our last visit there, I was quite disappointed to find that the toys had disappeared and only colouring books were available – for the children to borrow – as the first time we went there both my children were given an activity book to take away.  Its proximity to the lift also caused a problem as it suddenly became an object of interest while the allure of the colouring books faded and numerous trips up and down levels were called for.


At Arcades, it’s Mike’s Kitchen which offers the desperate parents a place of refuge.  There is a play area inside and a friend of mine tells me that she left her son there under the supervision of one of the members of staff while she and her husband actually managed to eat an entire meal uninterrupted.  The Wimpy across the way also has a couple of those coin-operated rides for younger kids – although these can also lead to a prolonged stay and many tears!  My favourite place at Arcades is actually Spar which offers a children’s activity area next to their cafe and, more importantly, child-size trolleys with which kids can accompany their parents around the shop.  What a pleasure – just mind they don’t smash into any displays of imported wines as it may be a costly experience!


The most relaxing outing one might have with one’s kids in Lusaka is at Jackal & Hide on Leopards Hill Road.  The beautiful surroundings are a balm for any busy mind needing some time out.  Here it is possible to sit outside and have a meal – or even just a cup of tea – without worrying about the carryings on of one’s offspring.  The only drawback is that the recreational area is just that little bit too far from the cafe area to let little children wander off and do their own thing.  Responding to each cry of  ‘Mom!’ can be quite tiring as you traipse back and forth – and all the time your tea goes cold!  Another hazard is that one of the slides is almost vertical which has led to some hair-raising moments for both child and parent!


Unfortunately, Ndola can boast of nothing on the scale of Lusaka’s offerings.  There are no garden cafes and none of the places at which to eat out are child-friendly in any sense.  Perhaps the nearest one can get is the cafe attached to Spar, which does have an outside area, albeit a concrete slab.  At least one doesn’t feel bad about spilt drinks though!  On the way to Ndola from Lusaka, probably the only place worth stopping at is The Figtree Cafe just outside of Kabwe.  Although a little pricey, it’s great to have a place to stop where the kids can run around after spending a couple of hours in the car.  A few minutes on the trampoline is good for burning up some energy and releasing frustration (it’s good for adults, too!)


Perhaps the best place in Zambia for those needing a five minute break which will not end in tears for both child and parent, is the Wimpy in Kitwe.  For those who are put off by the idea of anything to do with fast food or chain restaurants, think again.  Number one, there is an activity playground outside of the main eating area where one can join other harassed parents for a bit of time out while the children let off steam by crawling through large plastic tubes.  You don’t feel as though you are disturbing the people inside and the waiters are very attentive and don’t ‘forget’ to serve those accompanied by little brats.  Secondly, the food is not bad and it’s not as if somewhere else would offer anything better.  In fact, you probably wouldn’t find the same value for money and at least it’s food that kids actually eat.


Nobody minds if you make a mess or your child opens all the little packets of sugar over the table (and floor) or the milkshake spills as everything on the table, and including the table, is easily wipeable.  Relief at last!  The play area is near enough to keep an eye on your little ones and yet at a suitable distance so that you can relax.  At the end of it all, perhaps the best thing about it is that some of the meals attract the added bonus of a ‘present’ when you leave – last time we were there it was a Strawberry Shortcake lilo.  So when it’s time to go, there are no tears or demands to stay there the night.  All depart for the car with happy faces – for once!


Time Marches On

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

Time marches on and in this case, time is marching on for David Reeve and his team who are working on getting David to Dakar. In the past month, David’s bike that he will be riding in the Dakar has arrived, it has been customs cleared and registered.


Last week, David was in Namibia doing what is called ‘Roadbook’ training together with his ‘riding mate’ for Dakar, Namibian Ingo Waldschmidt.  The main objectives of this training is to learn how to navigate at theDakar. Participants are given different road books in various terrains with a total length of 1800 km. Participants then set out, navigating from the road book.


The point of this training is for participants to learn to read and understand the road book and to ride in different kinds of terrain finding their way only with the road book. What better place to do this than in the dunes of theNamib Desert?  Once the participant returns from a trip, the track from the GPS which they carried are downloaded and plotted onto a map together with the route they should have taken.  This quickly helps riders to find out where they went wrong and to improve their navigation skills.


But all these activities and preparation cost money. By the time this Lowdown hits the shelves, it will be less than three months before David’s departure for Dakar.  And there is still a shortfall on the money needed to send David as Zambia’s Ambassador to Dakar.  So, if you are considering sponsoring Zambia’s first attempt at The Dakar, please do contact David on 0966 519-516 or email him on

For those sponsors who have already committed and paid their sponsorship, David and his team are very grateful and say a big Thank You. Unfortunately space does not allow us to mention you all by name, but The Lowdown will give more coverage to this in a future edition.


And for those of you who have pledged sponsorship but have not yet paid – shame on you!


Follow David’s progress



Getting Your Fix

Written By: The Lowdown - Oct• 30•12

Imbibers of alcoholic beverages around the country are most peeved at the recent enforcement of the hours during which bars, bottle stores, night clubs and restaurants may sell alcoholic beverages to members of the public, as are some pub and bar owners. As a non drinker, it is of no consequence to me, but I did take the time to investigate this a bit further.


Up to date and relevant statistics on Zambia are not readily available (if they even exist) but with the number of incidences of assault, unlawful wounding and grievous bodily harm as well as domestic violence, it is believed that in the majority of these cases, alcohol was a factor. This is quite apart from road traffic accidents.  Only last month, a young man, one of ‘our’ community, died as a result of the actions of a drunken driver; a young man known to many of us and a young life brought to an abrupt and unnecessary end.


And this is happening all over Zambia, to people in other communities, people not known to us. One only has to drive down the road on a Friday or Saturday evening, you will undoubtedly see at least one car weaving down the road. You will see many more pedestrians weaving down the side of the road. Just a few weeks ago, I was involved in an incident where someone’s driver was found drunk in charge of a vehicle mid-morning, with his alcohol level being almost double the legal limit. Subsequent investigations revealed that the alcohol had been purchased earlier that morning, around 7 am.


Restrictions on the hours during which public drinking establishments and retail outlets can sell alcoholic beverages is not anything new. Such legislation has been in place for many years. In fact, in 2011 when the new Liquor Licencing Act was signed into law, the previous one had been in existence since 1959 with the last update having taken place in 1972 – it still quoted gallons, miles and times as two o’clock rather than the 24 hour format which is the norm inZambia. The 2011 Act also repealed the Traditional Beer Act, meaning that the sale of chibuku or Shake Shake is now controlled under the Liquor Licencing Act, together with clear beers, wines and spirits. What was not happening was the enforcement of the Act and this is what is happening now which has so upset everyone.


As with everything, there are always two sides.  Changes in opening hours in the UK a few years ago raised questions on whether this would not result in binge drinking as patrons hurried to drink as much as possible before closing time. The other concern was whether a fixed closing time would not contribute to social disorder as drunken patrons were all forced out on to the streets at the same time, rather than wobbling out in dribs and drabs.


Limiting the hours that pubs, bars and nightclubs can remain open will certainly have an effect on the owner’s bottom line and this is relevant for those restaurants which serve breakfasts with the enormously popular Bloody Mary. It will also affect sales when there are big football matches on.  Imagine if the bars had all had to close at 10 pm whenZambiawon the Africa Cup of Nations, which finished well after midnight.  Even I needed a drink by the time we got to the end! But you will be pleased to know that pub owners can apply for extended licencing hours when special events are taking place.


So the next time you go on down to your local Tarven and partake of your favourite chibuli or kachasu, let’s all do as the Mosi advert exhorts us to do – Drink Responsibly.


Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12


Time To Lock Horns

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

September 22nd. The 266th day of the year. 

September 22nd. World Rhino Day.


Yet as we write this on 22 August, already 281 rhinos have been poached in South Africa this year. More than one Rhino a day! Zimbabwean rhinos are also under siege with reports of light aircraft being used to track down these gentle giants and remove their horns, sometimes whilst they are still alive, leaving them to suffer unimaginable pain.


Little information is available on efforts being made in Zimbabwe to shut down the poaching syndicates who seem to be ‘well organised and well funded’ to quote from one report that we read.  South Africa is having a little more success with a number of sting operations having been conducted, and a few poachers arrested. These criminals,  which include game farmers, veterinarians and professional hunters, are now being processed by the courts who are handing down some heavy sentences. Although whether the sentences are heavy enough is open to debate.


The problem of the slaughter of our animals with not go away until such time as the market for their products goes away. And it is not only the market for rhino horn but also the market for ivory from our besieged elephants and now also our harmless little pangolins.


So where are these rhino horns, elephant tusks and pangolin scales ending up?


In the case of rhino horn, research which has been carried out by various international bodies seems to point to the Far East, specifically China and Vietnam. It seems that in these countries it is believed that rhino horn has medicinal properties including aiding with arthritis, fever and being a cure for cancer. Some researchers have even gone so far as to say that Chinese pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing medicines derived from rhino horn. In Vietnam, the growing affluent middle class is fuelling the trade in rhino horn with their insatiable demand for horn where they also believe it cures hangovers. Given that rhino horn is merely keratin, the same material that our finger and toe nails are made from, this is quite ridiculous but this does not stop the demand which is threatening to wipe out the world’s remaining small rhino population.


The ivory from Africa’s elephants is also known to end up in the Far East, and again China seems to be the destination country where it is carved into intricate jewellery and ornaments.  Egypt is also named as one of the major markets for ivory, where ivory products are freely and openly available in Cairo and at Egyptian holiday resorts.  But it is not only these two countries. Reports suggest that the USA may be the world’s second largest market for ivory where their laws and the CITES regulations are not properly enforced as well as a loophole in their law which allows ‘antique’ ivory to be imported which is seeing newly killed ivory slipping into the country.  Hippo teeth and warthog tusks often travel the same route as elephant ivory.


And our harmless pangolin?  Again, China pops up as the main destination for pangolin products, specifically scales where again it is reported that they are used in traditional medicine and fashion accessories. The meat is also considered a culinary delicacy where the animals are kept alive until they are to be eaten. At this stage, they are hammered unconscious, their throats cut and the blood drained.  It is a long slow death and according to reports, the customers usually take the blood home with them.


The trade, up until recently, has mostly been in the species of pangolin found in Asia but with years of sustained poaching and the added problem of deforestation, the Asian species is nearing extinction and they are now looking to Africa for their supply.  In July, Ugandan police arrested a suspect who had on him 115 kilograms of pangolin scales, a haul which could represent as many as two hundred pangolins.


The poaching and continued killing of Africa’s rhinos, elephants and pangolins either by foreigners or for foreign markets needs to be brought to a halt.


Africa, including Zambia, needs to demands that these destination countries put in place and enforce strong legislation against their nationals who are involved in the trade in African wildlife and wildlife products.


The continued slaughter of Africa’s wildlife is robbing our children, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren of their birthright and of their national heritage. They are also being robbed of future potential income from tourists who visit our countries to see our African animals.


Remember that these countries have already wiped out their own wild animal populations and it will be of no consequence to them if they wipe out ours as well.





Pressed Into Service

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

FrontcoversmallIn December 1976 I was one of a class of high school girls that were bussed and ‘trucked’ hundreds of kilometres from Lusaka for what became popularly known as ‘National Service’. Any decent dictionary will define this as “the system in some countries in which young people have to do military training for a period of time”.


When my editor read last month that Government intends to re-institute mandatory National Service where school leavers will undergo skills training she was wildly enthusiastic as she felt that finally someone was taking some positive action to address the children who are passing though our schools but who have no marketable skills at the end of it.  Given my experience in the 70’s, she thought that it would be a good time to take a look at what happened then so that we make sure that we do not make the same mistakes again.


When I was initially approached to do this article I was quite upbeat. A good search in some of the older bookshops in Lusaka may bring up a gem of a book called ‘Maliongo’s Adventures’. It is the comic account of a gentleman who must have attended national service about the same time I did (the camps were separate for girls and boys). Well illustrated and very well-written, it will have you in stitches, especially if you can relate to similar experiences in boarding school, and if you are generally not very reverent about authority.


However, the deeper I got into my draft article, the more depressed I found myself becoming. I believe this the sombre realisation of the adult obligation of having to report accurately but to also take specific account by deciding on whether to support the reintroduction of this compulsory service ‘sans military component’ or not.


There exist in the twenty-first century, some countries which constitutionally will not go to war except in self-defence and some others that have done away with a standing army completely.


The existing Zambia National Service (ZNS) infrastructure – the camps, quarters, industrial plants and farms dotted across the country – could probably well be used for the purpose of ‘skills training’ that is being suggested. Almost forty years ago now, the idea was that once graduated our physical and military training would reinforce the regular army, a sort of ‘reserve’ or ‘land’ force if you like. If we extend this to what is being proposed, then the young people trained in carpentry, bricklaying, tailoring? would then be expected to ‘reinforce’ regular tradesmen and women currently in industry.


TEVETA advertising from our well-known vocational training provider is on billboards across Lusaka. TRADE training is anything between six weeks and a year; CRAFT training is usually not less than two years. To achieve proficiency several factors must be present including qualified instructors, readily available material, equipment and tools,  a basic academic aptitude of the recruits to handle the complexity of the actual tasks and the opportunity for repetition and practical industrial experience to name a few. It is no state secret that basic military training is designed at an individual level to put an assault weapon on the ground, point it in the general direction of a target, fire, and contribute to an enemy body-count.


Let us remind each other that we are in the 21st Century.


Trade and Craft schools require multiple pieces of modern machinery to effectively teach even basic skills such as auto-mechanics or electrical and electronic maintenance and repair techniques. A quick look on the internet will give you the US$ (or ZMK prices if you insist) of a Kalashnikov and if you care to, you can compare those to prices of a medium-sized lathe that could be found in a small garage repair shop or a standard ‘butcher-boy’.


Going back to my personal experience of ZNS instruction, there were some intrinsic benefits which have continued to shape my character.

– It was my first ‘survival’ experience, having been a day-scholar all my life, in institutional meals and overcrowded sanitary provision, which combination of both, most likely contributed to a severe bout of dysentery in my first month of training;

– A peak fitness level, never before or after achieved after several months of “road-running” which school sport and cultural restrictions would normally never have exposed me to;

– Male-dominated instruction provided insights the home and a girl’s convent can never avail you; and

– I internalized an irrevocable sense of NATIONALITY (or was it NATIONALISM?).


However, there was a down-side to all this – depending on your point of view – which roundly described by our instructors as “using your initiative”. For some significant time I can safely say that I lost my sense of individual integrity and my experience reinforced a skewed reliance on both force and the force of numbers as opposed to negotiation. As a secondary characteristic, similar to the description of learned behaviour of juveniles imprisoned with hardened criminals, I also adopted a potentially abusive and violent approach to problem-solving. But, then again we are saying that this new ‘national service’ will not include military training, and who’s to contest that I was the delinquent exception and my fellows passed out pussy-cats, so we have nothing to worry about do we.


How did it all end? Sometime in 1981 or 1982, I am unable to recall exactly, compulsory ‘National Service’ was summararily halted because of several deaths of high-school recruits that had occurred as a result of a typhoid epidemic. But did it really end in 1982. A whole cohort of grade 12’s from those seven years went on to become a next generation’s parents. We have never researched what this has meant. It is important to recall that at that time almost all grade 12’s were guaranteed further education and employment and are, therefore, the majority of senior directors of industry!


If someone is out there listening then, in my humble opinion, Zambia already has first class training fields for our youth which are relevant and hungry for VOLUNTEERS and can provide challenging work experience and a trade in an industry which is still in sovereign hands. They are the vast grounds of Zambia’s National Parks and Game Management Areas in mostly ‘rural Zambia’ (you know, where Peace Corps go).


This industry is only comparable to the Copper Mines in the variety of trade and craft that is necessary to successfully protect and develop the country’s natural resources: not only carpentry, auto-mechanics, and tailoring?, but forestry, veterinary assistance, safety inspection, river navigation, track and trailing skills can be taught with the assistance of whichever local tourist operators or village communities have traditionally fished, farmed or hunted there for living memory.


And instead of a wholesale approach, can we have some studies, some ‘pilot’ projects to ascertain how this all fits in with existing trade and craft training institutions like TEVETA? If the ‘cabbage boys’ have outlived their usefulness in ZNS, then maybe the future are the ‘green girls’ of ZES – Zambia Environmental Service?  In retrospect, I regret taking on this article, because nothing short of the same is going to cheer me up, Yes Saaah Yes!

By Chuundu

Deadly Elixirs

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

FrontcoversmallI do miss David Simpson! When I compare my writing to his I could probably have just contributed the title to this piece and his take would have done so much more justice to this subject. But there we are, it is left to lesser scribes to recount the tales of Zambia’s threatened natural treasures and the vicious and dangerous cycles of practice that are put in motion to senseless purpose.


A pangolin is a nocturnal creature, with no particular habitat in Zambia, except that its mainstay is termites. I am reliably informed that it is, therefore, classed as an ‘insectivore’ like other ant-eaters. This makes it an integral part of the natural ecosystem, but also a very difficult animal to sustain in captivity.


That did not stop an attempted sale of this wild animal to the management of Munda Wanga – our very own botanical garden, environment education and wildlife sanctuary in Chilanga. Apparently there are willing buyers out there who believe that the pangolin’s scales carry similar medicinal qualities as rhino horn and indeed porcupine quills. So in an effort to ‘save’ the animal from certain death at the hands of ‘others’ it was offered instead to Munda Wanga – at a price.


The story has an eerie quality about it, in my mind perhaps only a bad second to stories of the trade in human body parts and the myths surrounding disadvantaged persons such as the albino population, as with the human latter, trade in wildlife products is a criminal offence under the laws of Zambia. Even so, recent evidence has it that the trade is increasing with no less than four or five reported cases of rescued pangolins in the past couple of months.


As with other illegal activities only a few selfish power-hungry individuals benefit. This is opposed to the potential income of many legitimate Zambian operators and their staff whose ratings rise to five-star in the tourist industry if they can boast of pangolin sightings on their routine night drives. The pangolin is to the tourist industry a ‘mini-rhino’. This is apart from the excitement and thrill derived from the experience that can be availed by an institution like Munda Wanga through their educational activities with young people of what looks like a miniature dinosaur, and the opportunity for writers like me to have an intriguing subject to investigate – the benefit chain is unimaginable.


The story of the attempted sale in this case has a happy ending with the perpetrators of the crime being arrested and charged by vigilant Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) officers followed by a successful release back into the wild of our hapless pangolin. However, the challenge is definitely with us all;

– To raise the alarm and identify and discourage the promoters of this illegal trade,

– To invest even more in the strength and stability of our wildlife policing system at official and community levels, and

– To advocate strongly against deadly myths that threaten to rob Zambians of their rightful natural inheritance for this and coming generations.


For more information contact: Munda Wanga Environmental Park* Email:; Office: 0211 278-614 or visit

*Special Discounts on gate fees at the park are extended to Chongololo Clubs and school parties in general!

Elephants and Chongololos

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

FrontcoversmallThe dust is thick in the air, thrown up by spinning tyres on loose rocks. The slope is near precipitous and the heat is beating down relentlessly on six people standing around a stationary vehicle. With blackened faces, they step back to confer. It is another winch job, they mutter. Maybe they should have taken the longer route round after all.


These six people comprise one of the teams battling it out in the bush in the Elephant Charge. The Elephant Charge is an annual event in which teams of six, in 4×4 vehicles or on motorcycles, navigate through difficult, often mountainous, terrain in order to reach nine different checkpoints within an eight hour timeframe. The winner is the team that completes the course in the shortest distance, usually around 25km, rather than the quickest time, so it is more about tactics and good team work than speed. The location of the checkpoints is only disclosed the evening before the race, when teams busy themselves plotting their route, beers in hand, late into the night.


Now in its fifth year, the Elephant Charge, which takes place over the Independence weekend in October, attracts up to 30 teams of cars and motorbikes (there is a separate class for motorbikes) along with their supporters and families – over 300 people camping in some remote area a few hours out of Lusaka. Given that it is in October, it is hot and dusty, and by the end of the weekend everyone is thoroughly exhausted. But they love it.  In fact, the Elephant Charge has become one of the highlights of the Zambian calendar.


But the event is not all about getting hot and dusty in the bush. There is a much more important underlying aim of the Elephant Charge: to raise money for conservation causes in Zambia. In 2011, the event raised over K400 million for its chosen charities thanks to the participants and sponsors.


Zambia is blessed with truly amazing wilderness, exceptional wildlife areas and is home to a great numbers of rivers, lakes and waterfalls. The Zambezi, Luangwa and Kafue Rivers, along with their surrounding habitats, are amongst the top significant wilderness areas in Africa. Zambia has a responsibility to ensure the long term survival of all these natural assets.


It is very hard to imagine the future and fully understand what impact the current threats to the environment will have. In the mid 1970s, there were over 4,000 black rhino in the South Luangwa National Park and if you had asked anyone who lived there is it possible to imagine them all being killed, the answer would have been no. But 10 short years later they were all gone. Poaching had wiped out the entire population of black rhinos. The increase in wealth in both the Middle East and the Far East created a demand and where there is demand there is supply. On average, an estimated 20 elephant were killed every day in the Luangwa Valley during the same period.


So what are the threats to the Zambian wilderness, wildlife and natural resources today?  Zambia is experiencing the sixth fastest deforestation rate in the world and, along with increased pollution from ever-expanding industry, this is a key threat. The wildlife is under enormous threat from the demand for bush meat. It is estimated that 90% of the bush meat eaten in the urban areas is supplied illegally.  This means poaching – killing the wildlife in the wild illegally, without a license and therefore in a totally unsustainable way. As the economy grows, so does the demand for bush meat and so the poaching increases. This is certainly going to lead to the reduction if not the demise of the wildlife in this country.


Imagine a Zambia with no game – it is a distinct possibility and in the not too distant future.  We all have a tendency to think in a few decades ahead, at most. But what about in 50 years or 100 years? What will Zambia’s natural asset list be then?


The Elephant Charge believes that the key lies in the next generation. Educating today’s children will mean that tomorrow’s leaders will hopefully make the right choices. They can also influence their elders, today’s leaders, on how to make a difference today. A confident teenager can have quite an impact on what the household eats if they feel strongly about it.


So “conservation through education” is the byline of the Elephant Charge. There are a number of conservation organisations that are supported by the funds raised by the teams that sweat it out in the October sun but the one that has the greatest potential to make the largest impact on the next generation is the Chongololo and Chipembele Clubs.


This year, the Chongololo Club is celebrating an impressive 40th birthday. The Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (60 years old in 2013), which runs the programmes, estimates that up to ten percent of the population is somehow reached by the club’s education programmes. There are over 500 clubs countrywide with an average membership of thirty and the weekly radio programme has a membership of over 83,000, with an annual increase of 800 new members. But who else listens that is not counted? It might be hundreds of thousands.


At the closing ceremony (party!) of the 2012 Olympics the song Imagine by John Lennon was a reminder that we can dream up our future. Imagine a Zambia where the rivers flow with clear water, there is an alternative to firewood and charcoal, pollution is strictly controlled and where the wildlife is not under threat due to demand for bush meat. It is possible. But we need to empower the children of tomorrow with this dream if it is to be achieved.


The Zambian Elephant Charge runs on the format of the now famous Rhino Charge of Kenya. Twenty years since its conception, the Rhino Charge now raises over US$1 million a year for key conservation projects. Just imagine!



By Jo Pope

Shaun's team

Barloworld Checkpoint


Ryan and Kyle

In the garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

logo In The Garden 1The hot dry season approaches once again… and once again many Lusaka gardeners wish they had more water.  Anyone with a borehole with a good yield can use sprinklers all day long and keep their gardens looking green.  The rest of us sigh as we gaze at the brown grass and wilting plants.


One hazard that can easily be avoided is not to leave the coiled hosepipe in full sun.  When it is time to use the hosepipe, the first minute or so of water flow will be so hot that it will scorch your plants.  Last year I noticed strange brown patches on various leaves and worked out that this must be the cause.  So check that scalding hot water is not being poured onto your garden!


This is also the time of falling leaves.  I suggest that if you are short of water, the leaves are not raked up (consuming hours of your gardener’s time) but left to lie on the grass, forming a natural mulch layer that will shield your lawn from the burning sun and help to prevent evaporation.  Dew often forms during the night and this is much more effective in providing water for the lawn if it is protected by a layer of leaves.  Once the rains arrive, the leaves can all be raked up.  You can add a limited amount to the compost heap.  But it is better to keep them in their own heap in a hidden corner or even put into woven sacks (so that there is some ventilation) and left to decompose for a year.  It sounds a long time – it is a long time – but you will eventually be rewarded with a type of compost called leaf mould that is excellent for pot plants and general soil enrichment.


Compost and mulch together will halve your water problems.  Compost containing, as it does, plenty of humus will hold water in the soil much longer.  It is the main reason why gardeners constantly add compost to their garden soil.  A thick layer of mulch is immensely beneficial as it protects the soil from extreme heat in October and then from heavy downpours or rain in November.


It is eminently sensible to re-cycle the wastewater from the bath, shower, handbasins and kitchen sink.  Find the waste pipes where they exit from the house and attach a piece of flexible hose (perhaps from swimming pool accessories) long enough to reach a nearby flowerbed.  The water can also be directed into a narrow channel to carry it farther from the house.  Or a bucket or any container can be left in a hole at a lower level to collect the waste water (but be careful that your pets can’t fall in and drown). It can then be carried to another part of the garden.  Water from laundry has too much detergent in it and should not be used in this way.  Even the water used in a plastic bowl for washing dishes can be left to cool and then carried to the kitchen door and thrown onto the lawn.  Every little helps!


It is important to water deeply especially for larger plants.  Leave the hosepipe or sprinkler in one place for at least 30 minutes.  Little and often is no use at all.  Better to let the water penetrate to a good depth – where the roots are searching for water.


As a long term strategy, think about creating beds where only drought resistant plants grow:  aloes, jatropha  podagrica, kalanchoe, cacti and succulents of many types.  Even the rocks on a rockery help to conserve water by keeping the soil cool.  Create a pergola covered with creepers so that the ground is shaded and plant large trees to provide shade.

Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Sep• 30•12

FOTHIt’s always a gamble booking a holiday to somewhere new isn’t it? And when the only way to get there is on Easyjet with herds of real-life British budget package tourists then you start having misgivings pretty early on in the proceedings, spoilt as you are by Indian Ocean beaches, wide open spaces and good contacts in the travel industry. But stiff upper lip; we are doing this primarily so that the kids can enjoy some quality time with their English cousins and my wife with her sister and having spent the last three days walking their dog in a sailing jacket and waterproof trousers (and I thought Labradors were tough) I am glad we are not spending this quality time in what is turning out to be a miserable summer in the UK.


Turkey slaps us upside the head with a midday temperature that could make a Siavongan faint and we pile thankfully onto an air-conditioned minibus for the drive from Dalaman to Marmaris one of the largest ports on the western Turkish coast. Despite a long legacy of repulsing Alexander the Great and later the St John’s Hospitaller Knights, Marmaris has finally fallen to foreign powers and although in daylight it offers a charming marina and quaint shopping lanes, at night the streets run with tattoo ink and regurgitated tequila and sambucca shots pumped in and out of the budget tourists. Luckily we are not staying and after a quick lunch and a change of clothing we are shown to Laila Deniz, the 22m traditional sailing boat, or gulet, we have chartered for the week. We meet the crew, Captain Mete, Attila the First Mate and Orz the ship’s boy and as soon as we have loaded the booze, cruise out of Marmaris to moor for the night out of sight but still in earshot of the throbbing base from the clubs to watch their 20th Century Fox light show over the spine of the island. We try on the first night to make use of the cabins of which there are five all with air-con varying in degrees of efficiency. But the aircon doesn’t work without the engine and smooth as she is the cadence of the big Cummins keeps sleep at bay, so the cabins become wardrobes and changing rooms only for the next 6 nights. The weather is very democratic and we soon realise that it doesn’t matter how posh your yacht is (and ours isn’t very) everyone sleeps on deck so waking up in a marina is rather like being at a naturist festival, and with boats moored cheek by jowl there is very little space between the foredecks full of flesh on adjacent gulets.


Sailing folk, amongst which my wife and her family are numbered, are funny buggers aren’t they? We can all agree that messing about on the water is great and handling a boat under canvas is a worthy skill-set all youngsters should embrace alongside learning “to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth”. There is of course a wonderful feeling of freedom in being able to weigh anchor and leave the hoi polloi behind, but come on lets face it, the accommodations are no better than a caravan. Yes there are degrees of luxury on yachts, but there are too with trailer homes and RV’s. I try to convince my wife and in-laws that we are no better than big fat seagoing gypsies, pelagic pikies, diddycoys of the waves … but my arguments fall on the deaf ears of a family swaddled in Musto and Helly Hansen since birth!


The agent, so meticulous in all other detail had omitted to tell us that this time of year is not ideal for sailing and although fully rigged, double masted and to all intents and purposes ready to feature in the opening credits of The Onedin Line, the crew are not eager to even unfurl the jib let alone the mainsail and when finally persuaded with a premature tip we find that there really isn’t enough wind to ruffle a puffin’s quiff let alone push a boat. So instead we cruise along the coastline heading west and then east into the many coves and bays of the BozborunPeninsula north of Rhodes. For the first day and a half the coast is severe and almost devoid of vegetation and as welcoming as ferrous cement wedding cake. I can’t even see any goats, so pickings must be lean and am surprised by the abundance of safe nesting sites but a paucity of seabirds. The cliffs and scree slopes looks ideal for raptors but turn up only one buzzard and an Eleanora’s falcon in a week of scanning.


Initially disappointed by the scarcity of beaches we are soon grateful for this as any bay with so much as a patch of grey gravel is oversubscribed by Turkish holiday-makers on day trip boats which arrive and lower a gangplank at the rear to decant up to 150 people into the water. The Turks are as rugged as their coastline and after their mid twenties all seem to conform to type with Zeppelin like bellies, forearms as thick as a bull terrier’s chest, hands like bunches of plantains and ubiquitous Pancho Villa moustaches. The men are no less robust and though lacking in headscarves, they sport man-boobs which make me feel shyly flatchested and favour tight children’s Speedos which conjure unwelcome images of a half dozen cocktail frankfurters stuffed into a magician’s handkerchief.


But despite all the above the water is fifty shades of blue, glassy and a perfect temperature to dive into at any time of the day or night and the kids snorkel for hours and are rarely on board when we are stationary. The food is excellent as are the crew and I marvel at their discretion with ten of us and three of them on the boat. The resinous Turkish wine flows and the Efes beer is crisp and cold, so this is far from a complaint. The greatest gift this holiday has given us is in teaching us that there can be few better ways to see any country with a coast than from the deck of a sailing boat. It’s certainly something we will do again (and hopefully our youngest will be able to swim by the next time which will reduce stress levels a little!)


As we motor onwards to explore the bays between Bozborun and Selimye the landscape softens and yields up a foothold to indigenous trees and feral shrubs and hardscrabble smallholdings supporting some livestock and a few olive and almond groves. Tourism though still seems to be the main industry and often as we round a headland into a bay a large new hotel complex will rear up. The architecture seems to be of two types. Older buildings nod to their Ottoman roots and were inspired by the nationalism of the 1920’s with tiled roofs (all sporting solar water geysers) and gracious lines, but these new hotels all seem to be the spawn of Eastern Block neo-capitalism and are as pretty as Lego models. Obviously built with the same money that is being laundered through the many super-yachts, some of them costing as much as sixty five million Euros, which ply these waters brimming with Russian gangster types in the company of women who may or may not be their teenage daughters. Turkey’s age old bipolarity straddling two continents is now reborn as a European nation that is not in the EU, a position obviously being exploited by those who want to invest without any of those sticky EU banking regulations prying into where the loot came from.


Unfortunately talk on board is dominated by what is happening at home and every morning is greeted with trepidation as Blackberries squawk with news of the latest surprise SI to take the wind out of all our sails and send us back into the doldrums of a pre-liberalised economy. Perhaps this time next year we can look forward to spending our devalued new Kwacha holidaying on a kapenta rig in Sinazongwe.



By Jake da Motta