March

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

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The Eighth Day

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverI have been looking up some elements of Chinese culture that fascinate me since theirs is the oldest uninterrupted world tradition and found that “The number eight is viewed as such an auspicious number that any number with several eights is considered very lucky.”

On March 8 Zambia officially recognises International Women’s Day – the 102nd anniversary, and superstition aside, the question in my mind was what measure of luck has influenced the status of women. Some aspects could include our known character as ‘a peaceful nation’ coupled with the general attitude of Zambian women themselves who tend to get on with business when and if their men-folk won’t   – but, there is no doubt that we also owe a lot to the development of institutional support that has protected and upheld the rights of ordinary Zambian women.

Currently, the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Committee (NGOCC) boasts over more than 100 affiliate organisations. With the reintroduction of the multi-party system in 1991, women’s groups found themselves by far the majority of civil society organisations. The National Women’s Lobby Group (NWLG) and others such as Women for Change (WfC) and Women in Law in Southern Africa (WILSA) focused on the issues of imbalance in’ justice, redress and respect’ for women’s human rights. However, they were successful to large part because of the existence of much older organisations, with country-wide networks established before Independence like the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) which was formed in 1957

The primary teaching profession in Zambia, and nursing, actively encouraged female recruits. Deliberate policies to encourage girl-child education have been worked on by the Ministry of Education, donor agencies and non-governmental actors. In higher institutions of learning there have been instances where female students have been reimbursed tuition fees as they pass from one level to another. The more liberal churches have seen women rise to senior positions in the clergy.

Historically a combination of quota, and positive discrimination has meant that we have significant female representation in our society. Zambian women are visible in institutions as varied as the media, art, sport, police, courts, banking systems, agriculture, engineering and the medical profession.

But there is no need to be complacent. The idea of 50:50 representation is still a long way off for the country. Women parliamentarians still fall far short of the 30 percent SADC protocol and number varyingly between 11 to 15% of the 150 member house over the past five years. By the time girls reach the tertiary institutions of learning they are routinely outnumbered 4 to 1 by their male counterparts. And the full enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals leave much to be desired as evidenced by more accurate reporting on gender-based violence.

So as we celebrate our gains with women and men of good will across the world, a thought to keep in mind is perhaps w[h]e are not quite at liberty yet to rest on the seventh day and in all we are actually down on our luck!

Muchinga Meander

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverMuchinga, the name of the escarpment which runs the length of Zambia’s eastern side, but now also the name of our latest Province, with Chinsali as its headquarters.

 

Travellers to and from Nakonde and Tanzania would be forgiven for not knowing where Chinsali is, nestled as it is the hills sixteen kilometres off the Great North Road.  The decision to reroute the road when it was tarred back in the 70’s has been detrimental to the economies of both Chinsali and its sister town, Isoka, even if only the boost to their micro-economies that passing truck traffic brings.

 

But Chinsali is a town which figured largely in pre-independent Zambia.  As the birth place of our First President, Kenneth Kaunda and our First Prime Minister, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, it was also home to many of the nationalist stirrings which led to Independence in 1964.

 

But the district was also home to Alice Lenshina and the LumpaChurch, and today the remains of Alice Lenshina lie in the Mausoleum at the site of the destroyed church,  Sion, which her followers built.  Fifty years on, few people know much about those sad days in Zambia’s history.*

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Chinsali town itself has not much to offer, it is no different to any number of small, remote Zambian towns where there are a sprinkling of shops selling everything from hardware to maize seed to salaula to kitchenware and CD’s of questionable origin and quality.  Restaurants, Bars and Night clubs abound should you find yourself in town for the night and wish to partake of the entertainment these establishments offer, you will have a number to choose from. And should you run short of cash, Finance Bank have a presence there, complete with ATM.

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Finding accommodation for the night however, could well be a completely different matter.  Difficult at the best of times, we believe that all (or most) guest house accommodation has now been taken up by civil servants who have been posted to the town to set up the Provincial Administration.  How long it is going to take before both office and residential accommodation is built is anybody’s guess.  If you do have business to conduct in the town, we would recommend planning your trip so as to stay in Mpika and to travel to Chinsali for the day.

 

It must be noted that at the present time, there is no fuel station in Chinsali. Indeed there is no fuel station between Mpika and Nakonde so be sure to leave Mpika with sufficient fuel to get you back to the town or all the way to Nakonde.

 

If you do find yourself in Chinsali with a few hours to spare take the road south out of town to Lubwa Mission.  Not only is it the birth of KK but it is a beautiful old church built of burnt brick.  Further along the same road, is Ilondola Mission, an old Catholic Mission with its even more beautiful church.  Both places are worth to visit.

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Lubwa Mission

Chinsali District is also home to ChipomaFalls.  These are a short five kilometres west of the Great North Road, 24 kilometres south of the Chinsali turnoff.

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Chipoma Falls

 

* For further reading, A Time To Mourn by John Hudson and Blood On Their Hands by Kampamba Mulenga.

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Ilondola Mission

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Ilondola Mission

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An Hour of Dark

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverIt’s that time of the year again when citizens of the world are asked to spend one hour showing their support for climate change action, by turning off their lights.

 

We all depend on energy, be it for cooking our food, charging our phones, running our computers or getting our morning cup of tea. Without energy, our lives as they are today would change radically and many of the things we take for granted today would become a schlep and a real challenge.

 

Compared with our brothers and sisters in the western world, our energy usage in Zambia (and Africa) is relatively small. On a domestic level, we don’t, generally, have all the mod cons such as dishwashers and many people dry their washing in the sunshine rather than in a tumble drier. On a city level, the lack of streetlights is an enormous energy saver as are our warm winters. But that does not mean we should not get involved.  For example, in Uganda, the world’s first Earth Hour Forest was allocated 2,700 hectares of land, challenging Ugandans to fill it with 500,000 trees to fight against the 6000 hectares of deforestation that occurs in the country every month. Standard Chartered Bank (250,000 trees), the Ugandan Minister of Water Environment (1,000 trees) and many individuals have taken on the challenge.  In Botswana, Earth Hour Botswana coordinators Wena Environmental Education and News Trust, recently launched a project called ‘One Million Trees – Plant For Life’ as part of Eath Hour’s ‘I Will If You Will’ campaign. The project will rehabilitate degraded lands through the planting of more than one million trees over four years in Botswana.

 

Back home, WWF organised Earth Hour in Zambia and first officially took part in 2009. In 2010, WWF Zambia organised a march past which was attended by Zambia’s first president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. A march past is hardly inspiring but they did a little better in 2011 when WWF Zambia partnered with Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO), Lafarge, Hotel Inter-continental, Pamodzi Hotel, Golden Bridge Hotel, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and Radio Phoenix who donated free airtime to publicize Earth Hour. ZESCO’s ‘Switch Off and Save’ campaign educated the public on the need to conserve power to be more environmentally sustainable. In 2011 the three cities of Lusaka, Livingstone and Ndola switched off. Did we ever switch on, I ask? But I am the eternal optimist and hope that this year will see something better, something with a bit of pizzazz and flamboyance; something that will really drive the message home.

 

What are your ideas?  Post them on http://www.facebook.com/Earth.Hour.Zambia and let’s see if we can get this party going! For our part, and just as a start, we are going to ask Zesco to send SMS’s to their clients reminding them of Earth Hour and asking them to participate by turning the lights off.

 

And in the meantime, don’t forget to switch off on Saturday 23 March at 8.30 pm for one hour.  Let’s all do our bit to help the planet!

Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

FOTHThere are no ghosts in our house, though it is built for haunting. Moorish by design, it’s more of an architectural beaux geste to Bunny Allen the former refugee gypsy White Hunter who washed up on the shores of Lamu in the 60’s and built several rambling castellated houses, than to the courtyards of the Alhambra. There are no tiled walkways or soaring, vaulted ceilings, just two simple circular keeps of three floors joined by an arched walkway. She rises out of the palomino beach sand just above the spring tide drift, contemplating a patchwork sea of ever-changing aquamarine blues and fresh minted greens. Her lines are simple, the shuttered windows arched with fanlights of watered down inky blue glass which wash the rooms in submarine light as the sun measures its arc. Allen now is buried alongside his third wife Jeri, in his garden in ShelaVillage. My friend Sandy who lived in their cottage, looked out for them in the last few months of their lives, gently rebuffing Allen’s charming flirtations at age 94, and watched them laid to rest beneath the coconut palms. For years she still keenly felt his presence and saw his shade moving around the old house under the moonlight. Unlike her I have never seen a ghost.

I’m on the rooftop terrace of our own house, 470 kms south of Lamu on the East Coast of Zanzibar, elbows on the matiti’s (the only word in Swahili we could find to describe the mammary like castellations we have used, like Allen, to adorn all our walls). I’m watching a storm sweeping in from the north east on the back of the kaskazi tradewind which will soon rattle the palms and send rainwater misting through the shutters and pooling under the doors. Startled from a bad dream, in which my wife was building a gallows to execute me on, for some or other heinous crime, I am once and for all convinced that after we die there is nothing, and that all consciousness is expunged and that there are no ghosts or angels and we cannot guide and keep safe our children once we are gone. I’ve been drinking some. Not to destruction but for long and hard enough to blur the edges and although surrounded by many of the friends I love best in this life, all here to celebrate three half-century birthdays, I should be in a safe enough space to drop my guard without fear of melancholy pooling in like the rainwater. But the constant topping up of confidence and a jolly persona bottled like djinn, and tonic for the troops we have invited, ebbs in the early hours and this dream has left me desolate with those few words in my head “there are no ghosts in our house”, and an overwhelming sadness that there never will be. Sadness, that much as we try over the next few years to fill this house with life and the rich, lingering depths of garlic and guitar chords, the fire of irreverent fun and murderous chilli, the clean tang of lime and belly laughter and the joyous calls of children at play launching enduring friendships in the surf, filling their memory banks with vivid postcard images and emotions strong enough to inscribe their very DNA; hard as we try, it will be gone in a flash and after that … nothing. And I wont be allowed to haunt this place, some part of me, some parcel of energy that is the best of me wont be allowed to lodge here to see them grow, and fall in love, and tell their own stories and watch their own curly and sun-bleached child’s eyes light up with glee at the first bite of a warm sugared donut in the morning.

But then some footsore miles and litres of sweat later, back at the laptop, I Google Allen’s obituary in the LA Times and the banner add at the top left of the page shouts  “New scientific theory says death isn’t the end”  What Happens When You Die RobertLanza.com .Piqued by the synchronicity of this I follow the link and find some solace.

Lanza, a child prodigy at 13, literally entered the back door of HarvardMedicalSchool with an almost unbelievable story of his basement experiments which successfully altered the genetics of chickens. Over the next decade, he was taken under the wing of such scientific giants as psychologist B. F. Skinner, immunologist Jonas Salk, and heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard. His mentors billed him as a “genius,” a “renegade” thinker, and a latter day Einstein.

Lanza has not disappointed them and has been hailed as the Bill Gates of science. His achievements are many and include cloning the first endangered species from frozen cells in 2001, proving that aging could be reversed through nuclear transplantation and generating human embryonic stem-cells to provide transplant tissue, which in one study has lead to a partial restoration of sight for patients suffering from macular blindness. Not a bad track record for a guy still in his 50’s, who looks more like a beat-poet than a backroom boffin. In 2007 Lanza published an article which proposed that biology could build upon quantum physics. Two years later, with astronomer and author Bob Berman, he published Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe, which expanded upon the ideas in his essay

Talking of the impasse that we have reached in finding a unifying theory of the universe which requires any less of a leap of faith than Catholicism, they suggest answers to life’s Big Questions. Lanza quips “It’s one thing to …. acknowledge that theoretical physicists are brilliant people, even if they do tend to drip food on themselves at buffets. But at some point, virtually everyone has thought, or at least felt: “This really doesn’t work ….””

Where religion views the universe as a set of forces and circumstances created by a guiding cosmic power just for us, and theoretical physicists consider the same forces through random trial and error, to have shaped the evolution of life as we know it; Biocentric theory presents a shift in world view with the perspective that life creates the universe instead of the other way around. Lanza and Berman challenge every theory from the Big Bang to the Bible and our current understanding of Time and Space, “Even Einstein avoided the question of what space and time are. He simply defined them as what we measure with clocks and measuring-rods. However, the emphasis should be on the “we,” not the measuring.” Lanza holds up biology (the Science of Life) as the new key to unlock the doors that physicists and astronomers have failed to budge. “There are over 200 parameters in the universe so exact that it strains credulity to propose they are random. Tweak any of them and you never existed” says Lanza. He uses time-honoured experiments with atomic and sub-atomic particle behaviour, which have puzzled physicists for decades, to show that the very presence of an observer or a life force changes the behaviour of the matter of the Universe. The scope of the work can’t be covered here but it is the sort of vertigo inducing writing that can only be ingested in small canapé sized bites as the revelations it expounds are too rich to be digested in large portions. In short, it does your head in!

Take one example of the age-old conundrum “If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound?” Biocentrism proves quite conclusively that in the absence of an observer, it does not. A tree falling violently to earth creates disturbance of the air-pressure in pulses which travel through the surrounding medium with a frequency of 5-30 pulses per second. Only an organism with the physiological apparatus to detect pulses in this frequency range will convert them into the perception of sound in its brain. When an Ear-Brain mechanism is absent, all that remains are tiny, silent puffs of wind. Likewise Lanza disappears candle flames, rainbows and refrigerators with similar theoretical conjury and later bends the reader’s brain to embracing immortality, stating “The ‘Who am I?’ feeling is just a 20-watt fountain of energy operating in the brain. But this energy doesn’t go away at death. One of the surest axioms of science is that energy never dies; it can’t be created or destroyed.”

Read up on this guy. His theories make a lot of sense and fit the New Age of our planet and human consciousness like a glove. You may just end up believing, in the early hours, sobered by a nightmare and clutching at life, that you will be allowed by the forces of nature to haunt your house when you shuffle off your mortal coil, and in some way still be around to love your sons. And that may comfort you.

Groundee Rent

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

logo MITHCome September every year is a task that must be done, however irritating. The ground rent has to be paid. This is a comparatively small amount of money but, if you do not pay it, there is a chance, pretty remote, I must say, that your property can be taken away from you. The reason I say it is pretty remote is that, unless your property has suddenly become the desire of some incredibly well connected person, the good people of the Ministry of Lands could not be bothered to disturb the even tenor of their lives by doing anything at all. Going to work, usually late, reading the newspaper, doing ones nails, attending seminars, funerals, clinics, being “not around” or “gone to town” seem to be their principal occupations, the other one consisting of redirecting enquiries to another office, any other office, anything to get rid of a noisome nuisance of someone who has the temerity to disturb their working day.

 

So, having nothing to do for an hour or two I repaired to that incredible hive of inactivity, Mulungushi House where the song comes to mind “Busy doing nothing, working the whole day through”. Finding somewhere to park is difficult; it would be much easier if all the wrecks round the back were removed to an auction house or a scrap yard. Brand new white lines had been painted at the entrance, “Entry Only” was proclaimed in large, expensive signs all of which were noted as I squeezed through the entrance in the face of exiting GRZ traffic, an effort made more difficult by the banana vendor’s stall that took up a lot of space by the gate post there. Eventually a place to park was found, close to where all the rubbish was dumped. The rubbish surrounded an incinerator which was obviously not man enough to cope so the stuff was just dumped on the ground and set on fire.

 

Into the building I went, to discover that the Ground Rent office had been modernized, a nice counter installed, behind which there were three desks, manned by three pregnant ladies (someone had been busy after all) variously engaged in eating an early lunch, knitting and having a deep and lengthy conversation on a cell phone at a volume that called into question the need to use such a device if the correspondent was within a 5 kilometre range.  I, along with three other persons waiting at the desk, was duly noted and, after a suitable interval to impress upon us supplicants the kindness that was to be bestowed upon us, we were attended to by the one pregnant lady who drew the short straw. A computer was manned and a printer spewed out the details of how much money was owed in ground rent. This part of the matter was dealt with well. Now to pay!

 

The queue went out of the building, down the steps and did not seem to be moving very fast. After 90 minutes progress had been made, the top of the steps were reached and a row of chairs achieved. As each person was dealt with one could shuffle along to the next chair and so on. Six chairs remained before a corner was reached and then the paying- in desk was in sight. From this vantage point it could be seen that the process of giving money to the Government was a long and laborious one. The paying -in desk was manned but by one person who, from time to time, was called away to deal with other matters. Now and then a person cut into the desk to ask a question which was answered kindly and, often, at length. Again, sundry important personages came and thrust pieces of paper in at the hapless official behind the grill. Definitely, the poor chap was overworked but doing what he could to satisfy all comers. Why, therefore, were there not more persons manning the paying-in position. It was explained to me later that if there was only one person behind the desk, taking the money, there would be only one person to blame for any shortfall. More than one and the blame could not be pinned down so no one could be accused of naughtiness!

 

I stood in the queue for over two hours before I realized that this was a waste of my time. Life was too short to spend the autumn of my days in a queue that did not seem to diminish fast enough to allow me to get to the counter before all closed up shop for the night. As you do, you read the sundry bits and pieces on the Ground Rent statement to pass the time and there, before my very eyes, was the solution; obtain a bank guaranteed cheque and post it to the Commissioner of Lands! You silly lad, why had you wasted all this time, off you go!

 

To Barclays Bonk, demand said cheque and, within 15minutes and the payment of 80 pin I was equipped with said piece of paper. I returned home, wrote a covering letter, attached the cheque and headed for the nearest post office.  To ensure that nothing could go amiss I decided to register the letter. Alas, the post office at Crossroads could not do this, I was referred to the one at Kabulonga, where it was regretted that they could not accept a registered letter, one had to go to a proper post office so, with but a tiny mutter, I repaired to Woodlands where the dreaded deed was done and a little piece of paper issued. Bliss, the annual unpleasantness was over, I had done my duty, paid my dues; nothing remained but to polish and admire my halo.

 

In early November I felt a spot of disquiet, the receipt for said payment of ground rent had not arrived, as requested, at my post box.  I thought that this was not to be unexpected, but a quick visit to the office of the three pregnant ladies and a new statement would show that all had been allocated to the correct account. Alackaday, the only progress was that there were only two pregnant ladies and nothing had been credited to my account. Upon asking where I could query all this I was sent to an office on the first floor where two very jolly ladies made a best guess and sent me to Registry. Breezing past the No Entry To The Public sign I came across a room full of paper and desks, behind which were a number of people engaged in the usual occupations found in Mulungushi House. Most were clustered round a lady with a large holdall from which she was producing sundry items of ladies apparel for sale. It would appear that this enterprising lady was a member of staff from elsewhere in the building who spent her various types of leave, annual, sick and unpaid, on bus trips to South Africa on buying said items. As I was assured, one had to make ends meet somehow or other. My query could only be answered by a person who was not there, please return tomorrow. Silly man, this I did and, despite all the odds, managed to catch the man as he was departing on some task or other.  My letter was most probably at the Post Office, awaiting collection.  He would ensure that it would be collected at once. Three days later, having had the good sense to take the man’s cell phone number, I checked. He took the call on a bus which was inward bound from Kabwe, apologised profusely for the delay but assured me that the letter would be collected as soon as he got back. I thought that this had better be checked and made a follow up, caught the chap a couple of days later. All was well, the letter had been delivered to the office of the Commissioner of Lands!

 

I thought to give them a week and then make another follow up. More progress, only one pregnant lady, the population is looking up, but, alas, no credit on the ground rent side of things.

 

Up the stairs to the office of the jolly ladies who tell me where the Commissioner of Lands office is. The security grille is padlocked, the door shut behind it. A gentleman comes along, he asks me my business, I tell him, he looks at his watch, it is past 2 o’clock, he knocks on the door, it is opened a touch and a lady explains that she knocked off late for lunch so would not be open for business for a while. The gentleman shrugs, I respond. Through the crack of the door I could see the lady reclined in her seat, asleep. By 2.45 there are a crowd of supplicants milling about the corridor. Eventually the grille is unlocked and the lady, one of two secretaries that occupy the room, demands of my business. Your letter will be in the Commissioner’s in basket, he is away (makes a change from Not Around); come back some other time, like next week Friday. Now when someone tells me that something is definitely going to be ready next week Friday I have grave doubts. It was with amazement that upon my return I am handed an envelope with receipts for ground rents paid! Oh Ye of little faith. But then, Hang About, these receipts are for a Mr. David Moffat of Mwinilunga!

 

I return the following day with a letter to the Commissioner, voicing my concerns about my missing cheque, bid all and sundry a Happy Christmas and depart this realm for pastures far colder, buoyed up by the hope that all will be resolved upon my return from overseas.

 

A New Year, a quick check at the Bonk, no, the cheque has yet to be presented. To Lands, the parking problems accentuated by large puddles occupying parking places. I present myself, yet again, to the office of the Commissioner. The lady takes one look at me and sends me up another flight of stairs to a Mr. Daka, who apologises to me, sends a note downstairs, telling the lady to look in the In Basket and retrieve the letter. I am advised to come back another day. In doing so I find poor Mr. Daka, engulfed in files, who refers me to the lady next door who, in turn, summons the lady from the Commissioner’s office, who, on conferring, ask me to return on Monday to see Mr. Chilembo, “who knows your case!”

 

It is a bright Monday morning in February when I return to the fray, but this time, I feel that I should do a background check. I go to Woodlands Post Office; I am told that my registered letter was dispatched promptly to the Commissioner’s post box held at the Lusaka Main Post Office in Cairo Road. Away I go, battle through the traffic, find a puddle to park in at the Post office, am charged a Pin for the privilege of getting my feet wet and enter the Post Office. On enquiring of the Postmaster I was directed to the first floor. Beware, the stairs at the north end of the building are blocked off at the TOP of the stairs. One must retreat and go up the stairs on the south side. Ah well, exercise is supposed to be good for you.  Alas, the Postmaster is, yes, you guessed it, Not Around!

 

The bit is, by now, firmly between my teeth so I return to the counters downstairs and am directed to that of the Registered Mail received. I explain my query to a charming young lady there, who explains that the collection of mail from the post office for the Commissioner of Lands is notorious for its failure.

 

A box is brought out, containing something like 60 pieces of registered mail awaiting collection and in it, is found my letter. I request that I be given the box so that I can take the lot to Lands but it is regretted that I did not look responsible enough to be entrusted with the delivery of said mail. (besides which there were several sacks of ordinary mail awaiting collection!!!)

 

Armed with the information I returned to Lands and spoke to Mr. Chilembo, a charming gentleman, who when last seen, was scurrying towards Registry; it was a shame that he did not seem to be carrying a Cat O Nine Tails with him.

 

I hope that all that will remain for me to do is calculate the time and effort involved in countering the crass incompetence of these wonderful, well meaning people, and work out how to pay the ground rent next time!  But, being married to a cynic, I have been assured that the end may not yet be in sight!

Can You Handle It?

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverA few months ago, I had the sad task of choosing a coffin in which to bury my father.

No matter how long someone has been ill and, as he said, ‘in the departure lounge’ when the time comes and your loved one does pass on, it is still a shock and a highly emotional time for those left behind. Having to organise the funeral certainly helps one to keep going during those initial days. As a family, we had sat down a few years ago and discussed together with my father what he wanted for his funeral. This is certainly to be recommended if for no reason than that those of us left behind knew exactly what had to be done and it was easy to allocate the tasks to each person. One of mine was to liaise with the funeral parlour and to arrange the coffin. My father, a farmer, was a plain no-nonsense person and the requirement for his coffin was that it be as plain as possible.

‘Plain’ was almost an impossibility. Most of the coffins were ornate with fancy corners, elaborate embossing and curly handles. Choosing the least fancy wooden coffin, I couldn’t help thinking that we might have been better off having our farm carpenter knock something together, something that was sturdy, solid and strong.  But it was too late for that and I had to take what was available.

All went well, and in this, I must commend Ambassador St Ann’s. They were very easy to work with and they were on time; in fact they were early. But the disappointment came when the pall bearers, the most senior members of our staff, were to carry the coffin. They were informed that they could not use the handles as they were not strong enough to bear the weight of a body. In other words they were there for decoration only!

Is this not a disgrace and a slur on our coffin manufacturers?

Road Safety – An Oxymoron?

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small cover‘Fifty Three Killed’ screamed the headlines.

And everyone rushed to the scene, shocked!

Yet I am only shocked that it has not happened earlier – these passenger coaches that tear up and down our roads at full throttle, screaming past cars and trucks as if they are on the Formula 1 track. Granted, in this case, it seems that the accident was not caused by either the bus nor the truck. Or at least that’s the story.  But in general, bus drivers seem reluctant to take their foot off the accelerator, apply brakes from time to time and to slow down overall. And as I always tell my staff – if you are involved in an accident you are as much at fault as the person who was in the wrong as you should have been driving in such a manner as to be able to avoid the accident happening.

 

Just a week before this accident, we had retuned from a trip to Nakonde, amongst other places. On our way up north, leaving Mpika early in the morning, we were plagued by the antics of the Tanzanians truck drivers, something I have complained about before.  On this trip we had two incidents in particular.

 

The first was in the hills between Mpika and Chinsali.  Having made our way to the brow of the hill, we were making our way down at a reasonable but safe speed when looking in the rear view mirror, I saw a truck thundering down on us, flashing his lights. Pulling almost completely off the road, the truck flew past us, sticking to the middle of the road.  The driver had obviously engaged both his truck and brain in neutral gear.

 

On the way up next hill, the driver had re-engaged the gears of the truck.  It was not apparent whether he had engaged his brain or not.  But a repeat performance of flashing lights took place on the downside of the hill, where once again truck and brain were in neutral and we were pushed half off the road.  Having taken our photograph, we hung back and let the truck go on his way.

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The habit of truck drivers disengaging their gears when going down sleep hills is extremely common but also extremely dangerous.  Many a driver and his (illegal) passengers have been killed when they can not re-engage the gears and lose control of a Fifty Tonne monster on wheels and have no way to stop it.

 

The second incidence was in the hills near Isoka.  Travelling around a bend on the way down one of the many hills, we came upon two trucks coming up the hill, one of them in our lane.  I was traveling at a safe speed so was easily able to avoid an accident.  But what would the result have been had I had thirty tonnes of cargo pushing me down the hill?

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The Great North Road between Mpika and Nakonde is littered with wrecked trucks and buses.  We have written a number of times about the seeming total disregard for road rules and regulations by the majority of the vehicles that ply that route.  Yet we see no improvement. Nor do we see any enforcement agencies out there, enforcing the laws trying to make our roads a safer place.

 

Without a doubt, we will see RTSA and Zacaria Phiri’s Highway Patrols out in force for the next few months, but then they will dwindle away and we will be back to static road blocks which all drivers approach sedately and safely, and which make absolutely no difference to how the drivers behave out on the open road where these accidents are occurring.  I have many times stopped at these road blocks to complain about the behaviour on the road of a specific bus or truck and asked Zacaria to caution the driver. It’s a pointless exercise because I know that nine times out of ten, Zacaria is not going to do anything about it, but I live in the hope that maybe one officer will take my complaint seriously and that maybe one driver will take the caution seriously.

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If we are to stop the unnecessary deaths and injuries that are occurring on our roads, it is time for our law enforcement agencies to get tough and to get out there and enforce the legislation that exists to improve the safety of all travelers on our roads. And the focus must be on ROAD SAFETY not on revenue collection, whether for Government coffers or for the coffers of the individual officers.

 

We believe it is also time that legislation is enacted that all buses should have the RTSA toll fee number (983 from all networks) painted on the back and front of the vehicle inviting other road users to call RTSA when they see buses behaving on the roads in a dangerous or unsafe manner be it overtaking in a dangerous place, overspeeding (as we call it here) or one of the other innumerable examples of bad driving practise that we see on our roads daily. Passengers on the buses should also be able to call this number if they feel that the driver of the bus in which they are traveling is not driving safely. The drivers of the buses concerned should then in turn be cautioned and repeat offences should result in their licences being withdrawn.

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Human Types

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverIn my younger days I worked in Fiji; one of those tiny Pacific Island countries. Being young, I wanted to understand the various cultures obtaining in this idyllic research resort of anthropologists. Needless to say that the first book I bought was Bronislaw Malinowsky’s The Sexual Life of Savages of North-Western Melanesia. It was a persuasive account of his participatory observations of the Tobriands there. The book contained many black-and-white pictures of undressed Melanesians, be it that the men were clad in bamboo tubes in which their penises were put.  I also bought Sir Raymond Firth’s Human Types which contained only a few pictures. Both books belong to that large category of books which one intends to read, but never does. Yet Human Types intrigued me. I found that Sir Raymond had chosen a terrific title; one that makes you ponder about what types of human beings can be distinguished. The book inspired me to observe people from different walks of life, races, professions, and social classes with a view to developing my own typology of human types.

I was helped by the insight of others in my endeavour. I believe that the most fundamental, and at the same time simple, distinction of human types ever made was established by the American philosopher-cum-comedian Woody Allen. His typology consists of two types only: Horribles and miserables. When you come to think of it, you can indeed put anybody under one of the two ‘labels’. Obviously, everybody prefers to be characterized as miserable, especially the horrible types. My advice in this case is: don’t let people choose for themselves. The classification has to be done by an objective person; preferably by yourself!

One of the first cultural outings I undertook in Fiji was to visit the National Museum. There I learned that in the olden days Fijians had the peculiar habit of boiling and then eating European missionaries. They ate them with preciously carved wooden forks which were proudly displayed in a vitrine. This vitrine also contained a brief explanatory history about the Fijians’ peculiar habit. The explanation’s first sentence was reassuring: Cannibalism had been abolished at the end of the 19th century. So, although not a missionary, I didn’t have to fear for my life. The rest of the explanatory note was very interesting: The good old Fijians preferred Catholic missionaries to Protestant ones as the former tasted better!  The reason being, the note said, that Catholic missionaries had eaten better food and drank a lot of wine, which resulted in a rich wine-marinated taste of the meat!

Then and there, I established my first human types typology: cannibals and vegetarians!  I tested it out but I must admit that it didn’t work out in the Pacific; neither in Fiji, nor in Tonga and Samoa. True, the cannibal part was acknowledged; however, there was not one vegetarian to be found on the islands of the South Seas. They all loved fish and, in particular, they loved smoked pork. What they did on the weekends was to put a dead piglet in a sub-soil oven. The meat would simmer for hours on end after which the piglet was dug up again and eaten by the entire extended family.

Having returned to Europe, the vegetarian part of my early typology was suddenly revived. That was because I lived across from a so-called Reform shop. These shops exclusively sell ‘natural’ products, ranging from unadulterated vegetables to quinua (a wholesome bean which only grows on high plains in the Andes). All customers consisted exclusively of skinny women with thin hair, with a terribly unhealthy complexion. So, I had identified my vegetarian human type after all: female reform shop customers!

I haven’t been able to identify many more human types since. However, there is one you can’t miss: Politicians. Without exception, they are all well-dressed and manicured, radiate a lot of joy in life, wear golden watches, and pretend to be genuinely interested in you; no, they act as if they were your friend! While heartily shaking hands with you, they don’t look into your eyes; instead they look frantically around to spot another ‘friend’ they need to shake hands with. Meanwhile they ask about your mother’s health, not realizing that the poor soul passed away seven years ago.  They then don’t even feel embarrassed about their un-thoughtful question, as their attention is already focused on other ‘friends’ in the audience.

True, from time to time one recognizes lawyers and teachers in a crowd. But they are not as singularly recognisable as politicians. That is why I haven’t been able to include them in my typology of human types as yet.

I realize that my quest for more human types is unended as yet. So, should you have a specific human type to suggest, don’t hesitate to contact me, so that, together,  we can evolve the classification of human types that Sir Raymond developed a long time ago.

by Peter de Haan

Insurance Scam or Genuine Error?

Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

2013 03 small coverThe scamming insurance salesman cartoon is well known to us all, as is the second hand car salesman, and it seems that this is not necessarily a misnomer.

One of our readers recently went to purchase the  legally required insurance for her vehicle. The existing insurance expired three weeks after the end of the quarter, around mid-January 2013.

But the insurance company insisted that the new insurance could only be issued with validity until 31 December 2013, as it had to expire at the same time as the vehicle licence/tax disc.

This is clearly incorrect as insurance cover can be issued for any length of time (according to what the client requires) and in the case of vehicle insurance it is usually valid for one year.

Please be on the lookout for this if you are renewing your insurance and don’t let them rip you off.

February

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

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A New Dawn

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

small cover 2013 02The long awaited New Years Day arrived and the new dawn heralded the revalued Kwacha.  KR was finally here and overnight Zambia’s billion and millionaires disappeared, their bank account balances becoming easily readable numbers.

The run-up to KR-Day was only slightly chaotic with the likes of Zesco being closed for the last few days of December and ATM machines being offline as well. Certainly the daily press carried adverts that this was going to be the case although I am sure that there were still a number of households who found themselves relying on candles and mbaulas because they had not recharged their accounts.

With, I imagine, most people sporting hangovers or merely suffering from a lack of sleep, 1 January was quiet in the shops that were open. I dropped into Pick n Pay for a few items. The prices of most of their goods were showing up as KR at the till, but there was a problem at the meat department.  They had a glitch with the system and were turning away customers who were buying anything but pre-packed meat. Their staff did a good job of explaining to customers and assured us that this was being worked on. Most customers were happy until along came an unreasonable customer (me) who insisted that I must have the cut of meat that I wanted.  Well done to Ali who spoke with the supervisor and between them they figured out a way to solve the problem.

2 January was a different story for some.  I understand one of the banks had a power failure over the previous weekend which resulted in them losing or corrupting a major database.  Clients who were trying to transact business were unable to do so. Commercial banks seemed to have very low stocks of KR 100, KR 50 and KR 20 notes (or perhaps it was just my branch). I was not enamoured with the pile of KR 5 notes that I was given when cashing a cheque!

There are also stories of ZESCO cashiers being grabbed over the counter because the voucher they issued said KR 300 insteasd of K 300,000 and then the inevitable rip offs – people in Siavonga paying  K3,000 for KR 1. The novelty of a new currency.

But overall the rebasing seems to have gone fairly smoothly, the flow of money has not ground to a halt and it is so nice not to have to deal with all those zeroes!!

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Lions on the Line

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

small cover 2013 02Every once in awhile we all like to get away, get some good old R&R.

Rest and Relaxation, with maybe a hint of adventure was my intention when I jumped in the van and drove the 7 hours from Lusaka to Livingstone. It seems I was given more than I bargained for when I arrived and my lodge manager organised some last minute activities for the next day, I knew I could not opt out of the experience.

Being woken up at dawn (what type of holiday is this?!) to get ready for my day, I was picked up shortly afterwards by staff from the Mukuni Big 5 Safari, 15 minutes later I was listening to “the do’s and the don’ts” and then 10 minutes after that I was face to face with an … Elephant!

Yes, you read that correctly. An Elephant. I had signed up for an Elephant ride and a Lion walk combination for the morning’s activities. Let me tell you, TV and photographs do not do these humungous mammals justice. I was in complete awe of these animals, their sheer size and power was breathtaking and a little frightening! That was until one reached up and touched my hand with it’s trunk in what I can only assume was an act of cheekiness looking for a snack, and I realised two things; 1. how gentle this creature was and; 2. this Elephant and I were going to be friends.

After awkwardly making my way onto the Elephant’s back with a guide in front, we proceeded through the bush for the next two hours. We then got to feed and interact with the Elephants, them knowing instructions such as “Open mouth” and “Trunk down”. It was a nice surprise when at the end of the experience the Elephants all put their trunks and left front leg up in a salute to say goodbye. I must say there is only one thing better than riding an Elephant … and that is sitting on top of an Elephant, on the top of the hill overlooking the town of Livingstone, seeing the spray of Victoria Falls in the distance.

Not all is fun and games though. All six of the Elephants were orphaned while young, due to poaching. Without organisations and conservations such as Mukuni Big 5, Elephants like the ones there would be left to their own defences, and would surely not survive in the wild. You may think “It’s cruel to make Elephants take humans for a ride”. Well, the Elephants are only taken on 3 walks a day, and they seem to enjoy the social interactions. The rest of the time they are maintained in a free roaming environment.

Once departing from the Elephants (I didn’t want to go!) we made our way over to the side of the park and were greeted in the bush by two big but young lionesses, one brown and one white lion, who were part of a pride of four that called the park home. It is an unbelievable experience being so close to such a feared, powerful, and cunning predator. Goose-bumps pop up all over when the lion is less than a metre away and looks you directly in the eyes. That is when you realise just how defenceless as a human you are.  We were able to walk up behind the animals and pat their backs and rub their bellies, plus walk with them through the bush and hold their tails.

The experience was amazing and one of a kind, although maybe a little discomforting depending on your view of lion/human interactions. Lions are endangered, and the white Lion very rare, but I’m not sure if I truly believe the intentions of the park will workout. My brother loved the experience and despite my few reservations I had a thoroughly exciting time.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do the Cheetah walk. We were told on this walk you get to interact on a personal level with the Cheetahs. I did however get a lot of information on the parks long term intentions for these magnificent creatures. The Mukuni Research Centre has an ongoing programme for conserving and breeding this threatened and endangered animal. They aim at breeding captive Cheetahs, and for their young to be released into appropriate National Parks and conservancies around     Zambia.

Be sure to book ahead of time, and check if there are any others going on the walk. Or you can just do it with your own friends/family. My brother and I were lucky enough to be the only people on our lion walk at the time, and I’m sure our time there would have been a lot different, even disappointing, if there were many other people.

Throughout this whole experience I was very impressed with the local Zambian guides and helpers, they were all very kind, professional, alert, and gave clear directions when needed. They had an excellent knowledge of the animals and showed a real love for their job and the animals they care for.

This trip has been one the most amazing experiences, and most memorable. I would highly recommend any animals lovers out there to give this place a visit. The activities are a bit pricey (around US$260) but well worth the money. I am already looking forward to my next visit to Livingstone and the memories, experiences and adventures that I may find!

 

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Mother Tongue

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

small cover 2013 02We have long and often expressed our concerns at the English language skills and especially the English comprehension skills of many of our citizens. Thus, we were interested to read recent press reports that language tuition should be in local languages as English is a colonial hangover.

The first question to ask is why English is the official language?  Undoubtedly this is because we were an English Protectorate and the question of the official language being anything other than English was probably not even considered.  But if it had been considered, which language would have been chosen – 73 tribes, 73 dialects and 7 major languages.  Can you imagine that the Bembas would have been happy if, say, Tonga was made the official language or the Lozi if Nyanja was the official language? English as the official language had a way of unifying us as a people rather than something that divided us along tribal lines.

The next question is to ask what exactly is being planned? Is the plan to do away with the teaching of English altogether or is the plan to teach in the vernacular for the first few years and then to introduce English as a second language. Or perhaps it is to start off with the vernacular and then to transition over to English completely in the upper grades.

Teaching in the vernacular in the schools is indeed important. Our Grade 1’s will get more benefit from their lessons if they can understand them rather than having to try to grasp the concepts of addition, subtraction and multiplication in a language that is unknown to them. But which language is to be chosen as the main language of tuition? One sensible way will be to do this province – Tonga in Southern, Nyanja in Eastern and so on. But what about the cities such as Lusaka and Kitwe which are a melting pot of tribes.  To try to impose any one language may turn them into a boiling cauldron.

And how do we handle text books? Are we going to have text books written and printed for each subject in each of the languages? If the plan is to teach only in the vernacular for the full twelve years do we have words in each of the languages for the technical terms? What is the Bemba word for sulphuric acid or the Nyanja word for onomatopoeia or the Lunda word for hypotenuse or isosceles?

It follows that when our children leave school they are going to attend a university or college. If they don’t have a good grasp of the English (or any other mainstream) language, that means a Zambian institution. Does this mean computer programmes and operating systems written in one of our vernacular languages, libraries for research filled with books written in the vernacular and the service manual for their first car written in the vernacular.  Somehow, I think not.

As we are continually reminded, Zambia is now part of the global village that the world has become. If our children and our country are to take their rightful place in the years to come, it is our responsibility to ensure that they have a good command of the English language as it is English that has become the almost universal language. To do anything other, will be to condemn future generations to a life in a Zambian village with no way to improve their lot in life. I cannot believe that anyone can be so shortsighted.

Our Man at Le Dakar

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

small cover 2013 02Over the past few months we have been reporting on the progress of David Reeve, our man at Le Dakar.

 

‘The Team’ consisting of David, his riding mate, Ingo, from Namibia and the mechanics and support persons left at the end of December, arriving in Lima in good time to get the bikes unpacked and prepared for the race.

 

Thanks to the internet and satellite phones, we were able to receive daily reports of David’s performance and progress on a daily basis as well as the trials and tribulations of the support team such as altitude sickness and the drag of having to put up and take down tents every day.

 

David obviously took things slowly on Day 1, coming in at position 170-something. But on the days that followed it was clear that he was feeling comfortable and was sitting at 29th when bag luck struck. The full details are not clear but it resulted in a broken leg and David out of the race. His followers were devastated. Our man was down!

 

But this incident also restored our faith in the innate goodness of mankind. A fellow rider, Norwegian, Pål Anders Ullevålseter (PAL), who was riding behind David saw that David was in a state of shock so PAL stopped to press the red button installed on each bike which would summon help for David. That a fellow rider would stop and help you is not necessarily a given at Dakar and PAL lost valuable time through this kind act. Thank you, PAL, not only from David but from his family, friends and all his supporters.

 

David was evacuated to South Africa where he received the necessary medical attention and will be home in the next few days.

 

But it doesn’t end there. David’s supporters, to show their appreciation, are clubbing together to raise money to bring PAL to Zambia later this year to ride in one of the MSA Enduro’s. Any additional funds raised will be used for any outstanding expenses from David’s Dakar 2013 attempt and to encourage participation by more Zambians in Motorcross.  If you would like to contribute to this worthy cause, please contact David via email dereeve@zamtel.zm

 

 

The Holiday from Hell

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

logo MITHA few weeks ago a group of enthusiastic bridge players decided to enter the annual Manicaland Bridge Contest held at Nyanga in the Zimbabwean Eastern Highlands.

 

To get there it was decided to hire a bus for, as someone pointed out, you cannot fly there unless you have your own helicopter, and the roads being what they are we might as well travel together rather than in separate cars.

 

The bus proved to be a trifle problematic, the air con did not work and for some of us large cripples there was no room to sit down. The former was sorted by having opened windows, the latter by removing a row of seats. Away we went but the excitement was so much that the ladies had to have a pee break in Kafue. At Chirundu there was a problem with the bus and driver’s papers and we were held up in the bus for a couple of hours where, open windows or not, we roasted. There is a new “One Stop System at the border. Going south you cross over the Zambezi on a new bridge and enter a building in which both Zambian and Zimbabwean officials are housed. It all looks very efficient until one sees, on both sides of the border, serried ranks of trucks, awaiting clearance. Eventually  we managed to carry on with lots of road blocks and immigration checks, only to arrive in Harare after dark with but the faintest idea as to how to get to our lodgings. These turned out to be in Borrowdale at a posh guest house, all very nice, but, be warned, all very expensive. The following day saw us intrepid travelers  reach our destination, the Rhodes Nyanga Hotel, best kindly described as rustic, but at least the sheets were clean, the water hot and the beer cold.

 

The following morning saw 30 pairs of bridge players get started on the competition, at the end of the morning one pair from Zambia was ahead. To my shame we were in 23rd position. The afternoon session saw us improve our position by but one place and it was a relief to retire to the bar, to provide my long suffering  partner with a glass of wine, myself a beer and sit by the log fire. October it might be but in them there hills it was cold. It was during dinner that it was noticed that a large group of bold eyed ladies from Harare, freed from husbands, children and other earthly cares for the bridge weekend were hell bent on a party. I was accosted by one lass, clutching a bottle of tequila in one hand, salt and a slice of lemon in the other, who insisted on me having a shot, “Mexican Style”. The evening took on an interesting slant, one that I was very wisely removed from by the Madam before any further damage to my faculties could occur.

 

Breakfast in the morning was a very quiet affair and saw many players a trifle worse for wear. My sobriety did not help my play one jot and our position relapsed back to 23rd. We concluded the competition by lunch time so that the afternoon could be spent at the Troutbeck Hotel where some of us played golf and others took a long walk round the lake ready for a celebration dinner. How the hotel keeps going, heaven only knows, it is beautiful but expensive and empty!

 

The following day saw us retreat, back to Harare, to witness the obscene wealth displayed at Sam Levy’s village, a shopping mall where only the really affluent can shop, in direct contrast to the poverty and wrecked agricultural economy in the rural areas. In times gone past the rural occupants of Rhodesia were always much better dressed than our own people. No longer is this the case and it is yet another indicator of how the economy has been wrecked. The next day we continued homewards, our journey enlivened by Toll Gates and road blocks, all looking for an excuse to be authoritive.  Through Karoi we went and stopped on its outskirts at the Twin Rivers motel for yet another pee and stretch your legs break and that is when the memories of the holiday experienced 40 years ago came flooding back.

 

It had all started so well;  I had booked rooms with the Meikles group of hotels in Fort Victoria, Umtali, Salisbury and on Lake Kariba for a grand tour round Rhodesia just after Christmas. My Austin Westminster was in perfect condition and there was plenty of room to take the Madam and the three girls, the youngest of which was but 6 months old.  Funds awaited me at Barclays Bank in Salisbury. We were to escort the wife and children of a friend on the way down. We left Kalulushi at “Sparrowfart” and before we really knew it had arrived at the Makuti motel in time for a late breakfast and a long swim whilst it was being prepared. This took a bit of time but was well worth waiting for. A large elliptical plate was covered with eggs, bacon, steak, mushrooms etc and it was just the job for a hungry long distance traveler. This used to be the preferred stop for all Copperbelt Miners on their way down to Durban for their Christmas holidays. After leaving the Copperbelt at midnight a stop was made here for breakfast before roaring down the road through and out of Rhodesia to get to the night stop at the Lala Panzi motel down toward Pietersburg.  The dawn would then see them push on down to the sundry delights of the Rydallmount Hotel on the Durban beachfront. We were not so adventurous and when all were fed, watered and done with the pool we drove down to stay at the SinoiaCaves motel for the night.

 

The following day we went on down through Salisbury, a minor aggravation occurred at the bank but the holiday spirit prevailed and we reached FortVictoria without incident. The hotel there was really nice, they were forever feeding us and it was a pleasure to sit on the stoop to watch the world pass by whilst having a cold sundowner beer or two. Cold beer was the order of the day because it was very hot. The rains were late and we had been asked by the farmers manning the road blocks on the way down whether we had seen any. Alas, we had not.

 

The following day we went out to the Kyle Dam and to see the White Rhinos there. Our enjoyment began to be affected then by two things, the baby got sick and I got toothache. Over the New Year period there was no dentist available which did not really matter because all our time was taken up by dunking the baby in basins of cold water trying to get her temperature down. The crisis was over in the New Year and we set off for Umtali with a cheerful baby but the driver still with his throbbing tooth. A word of warning here, there is one thing worse than toothache and that is a hangover with toothache. As we drove along the Madam noticed something, the baby had come out in a wonderful rash. A doctor was the first port of call; he confirmed that the morsel had got German Measles and should be quarantined.  A plea made and it was agreed that we should remove ourselves to somewhere on the way home where there was no risk of the baby coming into contact with pregnant ladies! The next port of call was to a dentist. Luckily a sadist was found and the tooth pulled, leaving a big gap in the front upper jaw. It turned out to be handy as you could jam a cigarette there when you needed both hands for other tasks.

 

The Meikles group of hotels was very understanding, we stayed the night in isolation, the next in isolation at the old Meikles Hotel where our meals were served in the rooms. We were then dispatched, like plague carriers on our way to Karoi where we were allowed to stay at the Twin Rivers Motel. We got there, unpacked, the kids were in for a swim and I, the pain from the tooth gone at last, could relax by the pool. Stupid me, I fell asleep and got the most horrendous case of sunburn! As such I was not in a good mood when the Madam came to tell me that the bedroom was flooded because the toilet had been jammed up by disposable nappies.

 

It was a couple of days later when all the hassle had died down and we were actually starting to enjoy the holiday that a police motorcyclist drove up to the Motel. He informed me that Ian Smith had just shut the border. No one was allowed in but they were still allowing people to leave. His advice was to go as soon as possible because, for sure, Zambia will shut its border in retaliation. I took his advice, packed Madam and kids into the car and headed out, crossing the border without trouble. The next day Zambia did indeed shut the border and a lot of people were trapped for a considerable time before a Red Cross amnesty was arranged to repatriate them. It was to be another 5 years or so before the border was reopened.

 

Kalulushi had changed upon our return. The rains had come and the whole town had gone lush and green and the temperature had dropped a lot. I was so glad to get home and put the whole holiday experience behind me. What a mess, but it could have been so much worse. If the quack in Umtali had insisted on the baby staying in quarantine in Umtali we would have been caught up in the border closure fracas. Upon mature reflection it was not a good idea to take a touring holiday with small kids, especially when it was so hot. Rooms and motor cars did not have air conditioning in those days. I suppose you have to do it to learn by your mistakes, sometimes it is necessary but I always feel sorry for parents travelling by air (or anywhere else for that matter)with small children.

 

Now, 40 years on, I spent a few moments, checking the rooms at the back of the Motel. The pool was gone, all was very dusty and shabby, time has not been kind to the motel and the bar, which had been very pleasant, now had a pool table stuck in the middle of it. No one had any knowledge of Rufus, the previous owner in a long gone age. The bus bore us away from the motel but I spent much of the remainder of the journey home reflecting on all the changes that have occurred in the time that we have been in Zambia. This helped me to retain my patience when, after a long drive from Harare we arrived, just in time to partake in the evening traffic jam at the South End roundabout , the negotiation of which added the best part of another hour to get to where we had parked our own cars in Kabulonga.

Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

FOTHIn what, despite any amount of cynicism, can only be interpreted as a victory for conservation, Zambia has suspended all Safari Hunting (SH) in Game Management Areas (GMA’s) for 2013 and has placed an indefinite ban on the SH of Lion and Leopard.

 

At the end of December 2012, scant hours before the results of the SH Concession Tender were to be publicly announced, Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia T. Masebo, surprised the industry by swooping in and cancelling the tender procedure and firing five top ZAWA (Zambia Wildlife Authority) executives including Edwin Matokwane, the Director General, over allegations of corruption. Reports in the press which suggested that Mrs. Masebo’s actions were illegal and unconstitutional and born of PF’s failure to have their own best interests and favoured applicants chosen have been dismissed by the Minister and the Vice President as everything from “Mafia style” to simply a “smear campaign”. At the Consultative Workshop on SH called on the 9th January to clarify the Minister’s actions and find a way forward she stated that the cancellation of the tender process was not illegal since no tenders had been awarded and no contracts signed and that furthermore she had allowed the tender process to proceed only until she was satisfied that it “was not inclusive, not transparent and was corrupt”. One rumoured explanation for the action is that one applicant whose tenders were unsuccessful divulged corrupt practices between another applicant and the DG of ZAWA to the VP and that is why the tender was suspended.

 

At the consultative workshop on the 9th it was made very clear by the VP and Minister that there was nothing to be gained by pointing fingers or questioning the legality of, or motives for, cancelling the tender and that PF was not interested in running an “antiquated colonial wildlife system in order to rip it off”. The VP said that PF had promised jobs and income to ordinary people and asked the question in relation to Safari Hunting (SH) “What’s in it for the people of Nabwalya’s area?”

 

Presentations were made by representatives from the Professional Hunters Association of Zambia, The Safari Hunters and Outfitters Association of Zambia, the Hunters Association of Zambia (resident hunters) and Black Indigenous Zambians in the SH Industry. All these were in favour of SH being reinstated and espoused the industry’s positive effects of generating income for the economy and for local communities pointing out that USD$3 million a year is earned through SH of which 50% (plus 50% of the meat harvested) goes directly to local communities where the industry also provides employment and an informal law enforcement presence in areas where ZAWA is often ineffective. This is the theory, but as the VP noted, most Village Scouts in remote areas are not paid for months at a time and ZAWA owes the CRB’s a great deal of money.

 

Zambian Wildlife Producers Association noted that SH complements ranch hunting which itself is a viable, sustainable and profitable form of consumptive wildlife utilisation more easily controlled and regulated than hunting wild animals and which in South Africa generates enormous economic benefits and ensures a growing wildlife resource.

 

These arguments were countered by several speakers including James Chungu of the Lusenga Trust, an oft quoted wildlife activist who had organised an anti-hunting, pro-photographic demonstration outside the meeting and who made a credible appeal denouncing the lack of solid data on actual wildlife numbers which negates any quotas that ZAWA issues as viable. He did display (in my opinion) great naïveté in suggesting that in any vacuum created by the destabilisation of ZAWA, the army could be sent into GMA’s and Parks to protect the wildlife estate. If ZAWA does not have the manpower or technical skills to protect the wildlife resource, why assume that the armed forces do?

 

Many speakers both for and against SH were united in the opinion that one of the industry’s biggest flaws was the lack of participation by indigenous Zambians at an ownership and management level. This is a complaint often levelled at the Photographic Tourism industry as well which is habitually accused of being run by an elite of foreigners. Sadly this argument, however popular, ignores the fact that for almost half a century there has been no hurdle other than willingness and competence preventing any Zambian from participating in either of these industries. Historically, the profit margins have never been high enough to attract those indigenous businessman possessing the expertise and funds required to enter an industry that has always been more of a lifestyle choice than the golden-egg-laying goose that it is perceived as.

In the last decade SH and tourism have undeniably become more profitable, with Zambia’s position as a safari destination finally bearing the fruit of decades of marketing. Now the wildlife industries are seen as a cornucopia, and despite the fact that there have been no bureaucratic barriers preventing indigenous involvement, those now wishing to jump on what they see as a gravy train want the playing field not to be level but to be sloped precipitously in their favour, even if in a transparent comparison of suitability they may not yet be the best men for the job. Certainly PPP’s with communities and an increased indigenous equity in both SH and Photographic operations are the way forward as both these will build capacity in an eager pool of rightful stakeholders, who through no fault of the existing operators have not taken much interest in being players in the game until now.

 

However many facts are presented to support hunting as one of the most useful tools in the wildlife management arsenal, it relies for its effectiveness on a stable, surplus producing and well managed wildlife resource. All agree that ZAWA has lost the plot and that as a nation we have no idea of what our wildlife inventory is, and therefore are unwise to be selling it off to the highest bidder. What was not discussed with sufficient vigour is that the illegal off-take and loss of wildlife (especially the iconic species that put Zambia on the map as a destination for both consumptive and non-consumptive tourism) and habitat at the hands of indigenous people and foreigners alike, will seal the fate of wildlife in the Parks and GMA’s in a few years, regardless of stopping the relatively small off-take by licensed hunters of any colour. Stopping licensed lion hunting and removing from remote GMA’s the very people who have a fiscal interest in them (however callous and self-serving that might be) and NOT replacing them with a well trained, well paid and motivated law enforcement presence (until such time as communities are willing and able to protect their own resources) will lead to many more lions falling to the poachers as by-catch to snares or for body parts to buyers from the Far East. As more disposable income is available in Zambia the trade in bushmeat, which is considered a cultural birthright, escalates. Ivory poaching is resurging to never before experienced levels in countries like Kenya where SH is long banished and it is happening in the Parks, despite the KWS having an annual budget of around USD$20M from central government. What chance does our wildlife have with ZAWA managing 30% of the country’s land area on a budget of less than USD$1M from treasury? I stand to be corrected, but I do not know of a single National Park Authority in the world that is entirely self funding and does not rely, at least in part, on a budget from central government. Why do we imagine that Zambia will be the first and only one to do this when it doesn’t work, even in countries with a longer history of sustainable wildlife utilisation? Raising photographic and hunting concession fees to a level where we are priced out of the market just to bankroll ZAWA’s exorbitant requirements is not the answer.

 

A technical committee was formed at the end of the Consultative Workshop and the following day it was announced in addition to the ban on hunting cats, a suspension of hunting of any kind except in fenced game farms for at least one year and not before inventory of the wildlife is taken upon which long term management decisions may be taken. Ministry of Finance has approved with immediacy extra money to pay CRB’s and scouts in GMA’s so conservation activity will continue.”

 

The VP said attempts to interpret GRZ policy are “futile” so let us assume that the suspension of safari hunting in Zambia and the banning of hunting lion and leopard has been implemented for the best possible reasons and is motivated by sound conservation ethics. Let us assume that despite the absence of the long promised wildlife tourism management plan, the flawed tender process forced GRZ to make this decision in haste. And let us hope that now, hailed as the new heroine of African wildlife conservation, Mrs. Masebo hunts down donors to provide enough money to payroll the reformation and rebuilding of the nation’s wildlife managers and policies and to bridge the yawning gap in law enforcement needs and available funds to curb the real threat to Zambia wildlife; poaching and loss of habitat.

 

“Nature abhors a vacuum” – Aristotle.

Green Tree Lodge

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13


Staying Out
It is not everyday one stumbles upon an oasis, and certainly not in the midst of the tourist destination that is Livingstone. There are always things to do, places to see, it’s certainly a hectic environment where thrill seekers thrive! At the end of the day when all is said and done, the days’ adventures having worn us down, its nice to retreat to a home away from home, that home being The Green Tree Lodge.

After an unexpected late start, a gruelling seven hour drive, in a stuffy van with two bickering teenagers from Lusaka to Livingstone, we finally arrived at our destination, five hours after we were due mind you. We were warmly greeted at the gate by the owner, Andrew, and shown our rooms after some friendly chat.  Andrew then provided us with an extremely late but delicious dinner despite the fact that the dinner hour at the lodge was long over.

From the first interaction, the staff at Green Tree Lodge were efficient, flexible, happy to help in any way possible, even to go out of their way for our convenience to make the trip as smooth as it could possibly be, just short of, if not, perfect. The staff have certainly set the bar for hospitality, meeting high expectations, and exceeding my own expectations.

This is where I introduce Andrew – owner, manager, and head cook at the lodge. Andrew made us feel very welcome from the start, in that typical friendly Zambian manner. Andrew has only as recently as the start of 2012 come into ownership of the lodge, changing hands with previous owner, Hector. The staff of any establishment are only as good as its leader, and Andrew leads the way in the hospitality industry, willing to go far and beyond for the sake of his lodgers! Attentive to every persons needs, he is willing to be up at dawn to help plan and organise last minute activities, offer advice on the best places to see, where to find an adventure, and will organise transport to and from your destination, making your day as easy as can be!

Andrew having 15 years experience in England and South Africa as a commercial chef guarantees that any meal you choose off the lodge’s extensive menu is of exquisite quality, willing to cater to personal needs, preferences and allergies. I was fortunate enough to try his fish and veggie combination, and I can tell you, it’s the best I’ve tasted from here to Australia! With reasonably cheap prices, and excellent quality, you can’t go wrong. The dinning area is located in the main house’s back veranda, decorated with local art, has a decent bar, and a nice lounge and table combination to kick back and enjoy the atmosphere, with soft music playing in the background, the smell of amazing food, and chatter of friends or family.

There has been a noticeable improvement of the grounds since the new management has stepped up to the plate, creating the perfect haven for peace and quiet, for some rest and relaxation. Picture this … walking down a paved path, to an incredibly green garden, bursting with fruit trees and colourful flowers, butterflies lazing about, sun shining down on the bluest of blue pool water, the only disturbance is the sound of guinea fowl enjoying the freedom of this perfect little paradise.

The site is completely surrounded by secure electric fencing, with 24 hour surveillance, and staff manning the front gate at all times, so you get quick access, secure parking, and a safe environment.

 

In the Garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Feb• 28•13

2013 02 small cover logo In The Garden 2It’s totally amazing what a dramatic change there is in the garden with all this rain. The plants love it. They are shouting “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Even with generous watering in the long dry months, it’s not the same. What they enjoy is the humid air as well as the abundance of water.

 

If you have pot plants indoors or on your verandah, a weekly misting with water will pay dividends. For orchids I suggest a daily misting and in the hot dry season make that twice daily! You don’t need to buy a special mister – just use the empty container from any of the common cleaning materials at the supermarket that come as a hand spray. You can add a foliar feed to the water once a fortnight. Ideally use rain or borehole water. If you have to use tap water, stand it in the sun for two or three days to lose the chlorine.

 

My vegetable garden is looking lush with huge carrots and beetroot. Add extra river sand before sowing root crops to improve drainage. The eggplants and okra are flourishing but not yet giving their produce. I harvested all the sweetcorn and it was delicious. The Swiss chard is surviving although it tends to give up towards the end of the rains. Watercress is obviously happy and so are most of the herbs. Sweet basil however does not like the rain so let them flower and save some seeds to replant in April.

 

I explored a couple of nurseries recently. The LCC nursery on Mwatusanga Road (runs between Leopard’s Hill and Independence Avenue) is…how shall I say this….well, it leaves much to be desired. The best thing is the price and most plants sell for KR5, including flamboyant trees, bauhinia, red mahogany and a variety of shrubs. If you do go there, ask for Mr. George Mwale, who knows plant names and will give you good advice.

 

Nalishebo’s Garden Nursery is at the end of Parirenyatwa Road near the 5-point junction not far from St. Ignatius Church. They have flamboyant trees at KR20 and a big variety of plants with many shrubs and ornamentals. Many plants were KR5 – 10. They sell small but healthy cycads at KR100. Worth taking a look.

 

Rose Garden is still way ahead of the competition. Their plants are always healthy and the owner introduces new plants from SA like the invaluable “Diamond Frost” euphorbia and the leopard tree as well as propagating all our favourites. I do wish it were easier to find simple garden tools, small pots and black plastic bags in various sizes. Polythene Products make the latter but are situated in the heart of the industrial area where traffic congestion is a nightmare. They also sell in large quantities only (1000). Game seems to have lost interest in their gardening section since Walmart took over and have a dismal selection of products at high prices. Check Arcades Market on a Sunday for plants.

 

The strange epiphyllum cactus with its flattened green stems, often mistaken for leaves, finally rewarded my patience with no less then 9 exquisite blooms one night. The white flowers are 15cms across and open at night at about 8.30 pm. They die before the morning. But they are so beautiful I highly recommend them. Although a cactus, the epiphyllum originated in forests. So it needs light but not full direct sun, and plenty of moisture. Never let the soil dry out completely. Keep it in a pot where you will notice the tiny pink and white buds appear on the edge of the stem. They grow rapidly to about 15 cms and then you need to check every evening or you may miss a feast for the eyes.

 

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January

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

ZESCO Excels

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

The rain is here. The electricity has gone.

 

As I typed the eight words above I did have the thought that those words alone say it all! But my readers expect more than that.

 

Over the last eight to ten weeks there seems to have been increased load shedding. Certainly where I live, we experienced load shedding both morning and evening every second day.  What was not surprising was that the SMS advance notifications that I receive from ZESCO were not actually in sync with the load shedding. As an example, on Wednesday I would be told that our area would experience load shedding on Thursday but the reality was that we experienced it on Wednesday! This was no different to the notifications we received notifying us of maintenance – the maintenance was done the following day.

 

And then the rain started and the electricity disappeared.  It is not hard to understand this. Decades of crisis management in this state run institution where one has to not only question the competence of the management but also the competence of the engineers and technicians. Without a doubt, if we looked closely, we would find some highly competent managers, engineers and technicians. But we would also find many incompetent personnel who are not qualified for the job and will never be qualified as they have been given a job because they are ‘somebody’s brother’. Nepotism at its best!

 

Take a look around at the installations.  Few joints have more that a temporary twisted wire.  You may even find some repaired with ‘maleggin’, the great Zambian ‘fix it all’.

 

Just last week, as a result of a medium storm, we were without Zesco for over twenty hours. When it was restored, it lasted for less than two hours before it went again. The call centre were on the ball and able to tell me that one of the breakers had been burnt.  But the same call centre told my neighbour that the breaker had been eaten by a rat.  A rat?  All I can say is that I smell a rat and now have confirmation of my long held suspicion that what we hear from Zesco is often not reality.  But I guess that it makes a change from the more usual answer of ‘there has been a tripping’.  Well of course there has been a tripping.  Anyone with only a modicum of common sense knows that ‘tripping’ is what happens when there is an electrical problem; that is the safety mechanism built into electrical installations to prevent something worse happening.

 

But forget the electrical installations.  How often have I tried to call the call centre to report a fault and the phone is just not answered.  Yet you get the recording which indicates that the phone is working. I even had the experience a few weeks ago when after ten plus attempts to get through to the faults number, I used another number which I found on the Zesco website for Faults. This number went through to the Call Centre Supervisor.  I explained that I had been trying to get through to Faults but without success upon which he told me that he was the Supervisor, but no, he could not take my report and that I should ‘just keep trying’.  What sort of Supervisor is that, I ask?

 

But I am the eternal optimist and like to think that Government has a plan for Zesco that will see an improvement in the ‘service’ which they are currently delivering. But in order for them to do this, they have to not only weed out the incompetent members of staff, but also change the mindset of those that will escape the pruning exercise. This will take time and we need to give Government time as it is not only Zesco but many other Government, quasi-Government and Parastatal organisations which need attention. As you will have read in the daily press, a Presidential knuckle rapping because of no water at the UTH resulted in water being on tap the very next day.  Yet the Presidential knuckle rapping regarding load shedding only resulted in an increase in load shedding and power outages.  Perhaps it is time to drop the ruler and pick up the sjambok!

 

In the meantime, I suggest that you do as I did a few years ago – take yourself down to one of the other suppliers of inverters and batteries and install a system that at least keeps some of your lights on in the house so that you are not plunged into darkness every second evening.

 

A Tale of Two Tubes

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

It was a new car and the time had come for its first tyre change. So the hunt began.

 

Armed with the phone numbers of all the known tyre suppliers inLusaka, I started on my quest to find out who had what and how much. What became very clear very quickly was that no one stocked tyres of the same make, and therefore quality, as the tyres that were fitted by the manufacturers.

 

What was also very clear, and readers need to be careful about this, is that some of the tyres that are being imported are of questionable quality. One does need to shop around and do ask where the tyres are manufactured. Although there are new names popping up all the time, the well known South African makes are still value for money and have a good safety rating.

 

Having decided which tyres we were to purchase, we made our way into town to have them fitted.

 

As I said, it was the first time we were fitting new tyres to this vehicle and being 750×16 tyres, they were not tubeless. It is a good twenty or twenty five years since I have driven a car with tubes and this is where we made our mistake – we forgot to ask about and check the quality of the tubes!

 

Having done about 2000 km on the new tyres, we had our first puncture. Yes, 2000 km only! The tube had failed. The second tube failed shortly after that.

 

As we go to press, we are still trying to establish whether it was overall poor quality tubes that were supplied or whether it was a bad batch. Not that it makes any difference when you are sitting on the side of the road without a spare wheel.

 

We did finally get back toLusakaand immediately went I search of better quality tubes and had them fitted, after having inspected them first.

 

This exercise is also not without pit falls. The first was that the fitter (and this was a specialised tyre fitting firm) did not automatically take the tyres for balancing. Only after an argument and calling the manager were the tyres balanced. We can only assume that the fitter thought that Balan Singh was the brother for Satwant Singh!

 

The second was the tyre pressure. This has happened to me again and again where tyres are pumped to a pressure many bars over the required or recommended pressure. Again, we needed the intervention of the manager to ensure the pressure was done correctly.

 

If you are a car owner take the time and make the effort to find out what the pressure in your tyres should be. And remember that if for any reason the tyre is removed from the rim, the wheel will need balancing again.

Decoding the Code

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Robert A Heinten said ‘Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something’. This is very true of the bar code which is now found on every manufactured product that we purchase.

 

The history of the bar code dates back to 1948 when the president of an American food chain asked that research be done on a system to automatically read product information at the till. A student over heard this and together with a friend they set out to develop just such a thing. The patent for the bar code, which was called ‘Classifying Apparatus and Method’, was issued in October 1952. The first use of bar codes was to label railway cars and it was not until June 1974 when a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum became the first item to have its bar code scanned.

 

It is only in the last 10 – 15 years that bar codes and bar code readers have been seen inZambia, and even today, it is mostly the chain Supermarkets that use them. Our other Supermarkets still rely on a cashier that punches the price into the cash register from the sticky label on the product. The cynic in me compels that I add that these are also the supermarkets where there is usually someone who will help you carry your shopping to the car! And there is always someone to pack your shopping.

 

But I digress. One of the most regular complaints I receive is that a shopper picks up a product from the shelf, where it is clearly labeled Kx, but when one gets to the till and it is scanned (or should that be scammed?) the price isKy.And I should add that the reports are always that the charge was higher and not the other way around.

 

How do you avoid being charged something different to the advertised or shelf price without each item bearing a label with the price on it? Bar Codes are inventory numbers which do not contain prices. Bar code errors happen because the price in a merchant’s computer does not match the price posted on the store shelves. So it comes down to the accuracy of the data entered by the data entry clerk which in Zambia, where accuracy is not necessarily one of our strong points, can be quite scary.

 

Clearly if you are only doing a small shop with a few items, this is easy.  But if you have a large number of items, it becomes almost impossible unless you record the advertised price for each item loaded into your trolley, an exercise a bit like playing darts with spaghetti. Can you imagine the congestion in our already busy supermarkets if shoppers were to write down the price of each item they plan to purchase?

 

Companies are legally obligated to correct these errors and most will, if you pick up the error. But it is picking up the error in the first place.  In many countries, the Law requires that a customer readable price is attached to an item so that consumers can compare prices and check for accuracy at the till.

 

Are we setting the bar too high to expect that Zambia will ever see such legislation which is necessary to protect consumers from being over-charged? Or better still, could we expect our shop owners to place customer readable price tags on each item voluntarily?

Say it Loud!

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

In terms of human communication it’s always very difficult to imagine how we would get along without speech. With estimates of approximately 6,800 languages spoken on earth, half of these are located in only eight countries; Papua-New Guinea 832, Indonesia 731, Nigeria 515, India 400, Mexico 295, Cameroon 286, Australia 268 and Brazil 234!

 

However the eight leading languages spoken in the world – again thanks to Google – we are reliably informed are: Mandarin 845M, Spanish 329M, English 328M, Hindi-Urdu 242M, Arabic 221M, Bengali 181M, Portuguese 178M, and Russian 144M!

 

With English still the official language ofZambiaand the language of instruction from upper primary school this means, therefore, that we avail our children of competence in a truly ‘International’ language. TheLusakaoffice of the Helen O’Grady Drama Academy has taken this educational responsibility to a higher level.

 

The brochure shouts out three words ‘Confidence, Communication and Creativity!’ The world-wide institution has been in existence for more than thirty years and opened its door inZambiathanks to the efforts of mother and daughter team, Janet and Carlyn  in January 2010.

 

What their curriculum entails is based on the fundamentals of ‘public speaking’ but is delivered in a style far removed from the dry old-fashioned way that we may be familiar with from our school life, even if our school held the track record for wins in ‘debating club’ . The technique marries the best of diction, dramatic production and developmental youth focused training to reach out to all children from 3 up to 18.

 

Janet, who spent most of her childhood in the Zambian school system has a sensitive understanding to the challenges that both government and private schools face in the country. But neither does Janet, as Principal nor Helen O’Grady, entertain any shortcuts in the delivery of their classes and the sacrifice has paid off.

 

Shy, withdrawn children blossom with the experience as much as their more forthright colleagues while their teachers strive to motivate each student to achieve their personal best. All the teachers are qualified drama teachers and undergo regular training in the Helen O’Grady Drama Programme.

 

Passing through the full curriculum allows students to graduate into the teaching programme or even directly into the world of the stage. So what looks like an extra-curricular activity could end up being a life-time occupation for some of the participants.

 

The Academy offers classes in certain schools roundLusaka, as well as private studio classes at St Columbus Church onNangwenya Rdbut Carlyn, as co-director, is always on the go taking the services to schools and private groups.  Adult classes are also held by arrangement.

 

For more information: www.dramaafrica.com, janet@dramaafrica.com or carlyn@dramaafrica.com    Tel: 0977 712-160 or 0978 532-143.

Birds, Bugs and Bushes

Written By: The Lowdown - Jan• 31•13

Dung Beetles

 

There are thousands of species of dung beetles, of which some 1,800 are found in Southern Africa alone. Overall they occur throughout most of Africa and Madagascar. They come in a variety of colours and sizes – bronze, green, black and so on. They have a wide thorax, short clubbed antennae with a wide head. The fan like antennae can be folded neatly away, in particular when the beetle is engaged in the laborious task of preparing its meal. Dung beetles are widespread in most habitats, favouring woodland and savannah grasslands where the majority of the herbivores, whose dung they feed on, reside.

 

Adult dung beetles fly over the grasslands and through the woodlands singly or in groups to sites of recent mammal droppings. On reaching the site, the beetle will firstly break up the pile of dung, using its front legs. The best part of the dung is patted and pressed into a neat ball, and the beetle also uses its shovel like head to aid it in making the neat round ball of dung.

 

Having made its dung ball, the ball is either rolled away by the beetle using its hind legs to a nearby chamber which it has excavated or it will bury the ball there and then on site. When it buries the ball in a chamber, it seals the entrance of the tunnel; it then steadily eats the whole ball taking several days to do so, whereupon it will break out and fly out in search of fresh dung.

 

Both sexes look alike. After mating the female carves out a chunk of dung and then rolls it away into a hastily built underground tunnel. She deposits a number of balls in the tunnel; in each ball a single egg is laid. Beetles have a four stage history- egg, larva, pupa and then adult. Out of the egg hatches a white larva, which eats the contents on the ball leaving only a thin outer sheet. It pupates then emerges as an adult usually when the rains are just beginning.

 

The larvae of the dung beetle are fed upon by many other creatures that will dig them out of their dung balls. It needs to be appreciated just how vital dung beetles are in the process of recycling nutrients back into the soil from the dung they bury and eat. This is particularly so in arid regions, where bacterial and fungi decay is retarded due to dryness. Though they appear as being repulsive because they “boldly go” into an area where no other creatures dare tread – that of handling and feeding on the waste matter of other creatures, dung or excreta.

 

Thanks to these humble beetles, the land does not smell and choke up with unsightly piles of discarded mammalian dung. Be it human or animal the dung beetle tackles it all. From a human point of view we may snub the dung beetles and call them low-lifes yet their   roll in nature surpasses that of other more appealing charismatic creatures.