Beware Flying Stones

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small coverWe have lamented many times previously on the seeming willy nilly erection of billboards around Lusaka (and Ndola and Kitwe and Chingola and Solwezi and …). But this time the Lusaka City Council seem to have outdone themselves.  We refer, of course, to the new billboards which have been erected in the centre island of Addis Ababa Drive.


At first glance, one thinks that the street has been tidied up and that with the plants in place, it is a vast improvement on what was there before. But then one looks again and sees that they were wrong in their initial impression.


DSC_3360The first problem is the stone that has been spread liberally across the centre island.  Already the stones, and they are not small, are falling into the road where they will become windscreen wrecking weapons as they hurtle out from under the tyres of passing cars and hit into the cars behind and to the side. Not only do we fear broken windscreens but also accidents as our many inexperienced drivers have their windscreens shattered rendering them unable to see where they are going. In the ensuing panic they will undoubtedly drift into the path or back of another vehicle.


The second problem is the trees that have been planted in the centre island.  Whilst they are small, this is fine.  But as they grow, their roots will spread under the tarmac and start pushing up the tarmac, causing bumps and eventually necessitating premature repair of the road surface, as they have in Chikwa Road. Or, as will be the more likely scenario given the Council’s poor track record on road maintenance and repairs, motorists bumping into potholes for a number of years.


The third problem is the height above ground and positioning of some of the billboards. A number of the billboards pose a threat to motorists trying to join Addis Ababa from a side road as they totally block sight of oncoming traffic.  In order to see properly, motorists have to edge forward putting the front of their cars into the path of oncoming traffic.


I am told, although I have not been able to confirm this myself, that legislation does exist on the minimum height of billboards above the ground and these billboards clearly do not comply with this legislation.


We fully understand that the Council derives considerable revenue from billboards. We also fully understand that the Council are unable, although I don’t know why, to maintain Lusaka’s gardens, pavements, traffic circles, parts etc in a clean, tidy and attractive manner. Clearly a business in Lusaka has undertaken to beautify the centre island of this road and the Council have jumped at the opportunity. In doing so, they have failed to ensure that legislation and regulations are adhered to.  And one assumes that the Council are actually being paid the normal daily rate for these billboards.


The other issue which has not escaped me is that many of the billboards require lighting at night.  The first question is who pays for the electricity? But the bigger question is why have we got advertising billboards consuming electricity when large swathes of the country are being loadshed every second night, and in some instances, every night?







No Choice At All

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

It’s never a good idea to go shopping on Christmas Eve, but when a friend asked for help with getting a PVR decoder for her father for Christmas, it didn’t even enter my mind to refuse.


After battling the Lusaka traffic, I got there later than planned, just before 3.30 pm. Finding a parking space, I made my way to the end of the line which was about three metres outside the door.


I hung about for 5 minutes and noticed that there didn’t seem to be much going on inside. My fellow queue-ers confirmed that the line had not moved much since they had joined the queue. I undertook to find out what, or should I say if anything was going on.


Making my way to the counters, everyone seemed to be busy except for the two counters where there were no assistants! A busy day like this and some of the counters not manned? Sounds like poor management to me.


I spent the next two hours observing what was going on. But before that I knocked on the supervisor’s door. I expected that the supervisor would be out at the counter supervising. But no, she was in her office with the two missing assistants and a customer/cousin/VIP. The customer/cousin/VIP was picking up a new system and he needed preferential treatment which included taking away two members of staff who should be attending to the public.


I explained to the supervisor that there was a mess outside and that something needed to be done. I am not sure whether she had to draw up a battle plan or call for re-enforcements, but it was a full twenty minutes before the supervisor stepped out of the office. Eventually someone came down the queue collecting decoders for repair. These people were dealt with to the side so they got out of there quickly.


From my continued observations that afternoon, it looks to me as though the system has not been set up to be efficient or customer friendly. For example, it is one of the counter assistants who has to get new decoders from the storeroom. Or that is what one assumes when one sees the counter assistant leave his station and return some minutes later with a box of new decoders. This may be well and good when they are not busy but surely on Christmas Eve and the other known busy days of the year, why not change the system and let the supervisor or someone in the back office do it. This will get the customers moving through quickly which will keep the customer happy. Or perhaps Mulitichoice haven’t figured this out yet, that it is necessary to keep the customer happy.


And look out if you need a replacement smart card. The number of replacement cards that can be issued on any one day is limited. One of the gentlemen standing near me in the queue needed a replacement card and the replacement cards were finished. Yet they were still issuing new cards for new clients. I couldn’t stop myself interfering and started making noise, so they quickly agreed to give him a new card but otherwise he would have gone away empty handed or been forced to buy a new card as they suggested. I subsequently found out that is to do with stock control but surely, a few more cards can be issued and a record kept of them. But perhaps this is just too customer friendly for Multichoice.

Clean and Green

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small coverWith Green Expo Zambia being held from 5 to 7 April at the Lusaka National Museum, we thought we would look at some clean and green alternatives to the many chemical-laden manufactured household cleaners.  We scoured the web and not only are these made from natural products, but they will also help to keep the household budget in shape.


Using Leftover Vegetable and Fruit Scraps

A Greasy Mess – Sprinkle the affected area with salt or bicarbonate of soda and rub with juiced lemon halves. (Not to be used on sensitive surfaces such as marble.)

Shine your glass coffee pot – Add ice, salt and lemon rinds to an empty coffee pot; swirl around for a minute or two, dump and rinse well.

Clean your tea pot – fill the pot with water and a handful of lemon peels and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let sit for an hour, drain and rinse well.

Make zest – If you’ve juiced lemons, oranges or grapefruit, grate the outer layer and freeze, store in an air tight container and freeze.

Make potato crisps – Mix potato peels with enough lemon juice and olive oil to evenly coat. Spread the potato peels in a layer on a baking sheet and cook at 180º, stirring once, until golden brown (about 10 minutes). Season to taste.

Keep brown sugar soft – Add some lemon peel (with traces of pulp and pith removed) to keep brown sugar moist and pliable.

Make a banana sugar scrub – Sprinkle sugar on the flesh side of banana peels and use as a soft, exfoliating loofa. Rub gently all over your body and then rinse in the shower.

Moisturise – Rub the fleshy part of an avocado peel on your face for a rich moisturiser.

Relieve your tired eyes – Potato peels can reduce puffiness around eyes; press the moist side of the fresh peels to the skin for 15 minutes.


Go Au Naturel

Vinegar – Dilute one part water to one part vinegar and use to clean almost anything in your house. Keep vinegar away from marble, and be sure to dilute properly or it could eat away at tile grout. Use straight up in empty toilet bowls to tackle that annoying water ring. Add mint leaves or fragrant natural essences to the bottle to freshen up the smell.

Lemon juice – Use undiluted to get rid of hard water deposits and soap scum and polish brass and copper. Mix half a cup of lemon juice with a cup of olive oil to create a hardwood polish.

Lemon juice also deodorizes, cleans glass, and helps to remove stains.

Bicarbonate of Soda – Does a great job at deodorizing the fridge, your sneakers, the hamper and your wardrobe. Less well known is that it can be made into a paste by mixing with water and then used to remove stains on countertops, stainless steel, fridges and cutting boards by letting it sit awhile and then wiping ot away. A thicker paste will work well as an oven cleaner. Let it sit overnight and then wipe away and follow with a damp cloth.

Borax is traditionally used as a laundry booster; it softens the water and helps make clothing cleaner and brighter. But it can also be used to deodorise, repel bugs, disinfect and clean. In an empty spray bottle, mix a teaspoon of borax with two tablespoons of vinegar and some hot water. Add a few drops of dish detergent, essential oil of your choice, fill up the rest of the bottle with water and use as a multi-purpose spray.

Windows and mirrors – Use a mix of lemon juice and water to clean glass areas. You can use vinegar or club soda instead of lemon juice.

All-purpose cleaner – Use vinegar and water for disinfecting and deodorizing.

Ink stains in carpet – Mix cornstarch with milk to form a paste that will soak up ink stains.

Grease on counters – Use cornstarch to sop up grease on the kitchen    counter.

Drain Cleaner – Pour 1 cup of Bicarbonate of Soda then 1 cup vinegar down drain. Let sit for 10 minutes and flush with boiling water followed by warm tap water until drain clears.

Air Freshener – Mix 2 cups hot water and 2 tablespoons Bicarbonate of Soda with a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle.

Carpet Cleaner/Deodoriser – Sprinkle carpet with Bicarbonate of Soda. Let it sit for half an hour and vacuum.

Fabric Softener – Add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle


Luscious Lemon

Use a half lemon and salt to clean even the most heavily discoloured brass or copper. Always test a small spot before scrubbing away.

Shine up your chrome taps or the chrome on older model cars with lemon and salt.

Diluted lemon juice not only cleans stains from cutting boards, but helps kill germs as well. Rub the juice full strength onto the stain and let sit until the stain fades. Can be left overnight, then rinsed well and dried.

Use lemon juice and an old toothbrush to scrub grout.

Clean your microwave and remove odours. Place a cup 3/4 full of water with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice in the microwave. Heat to boiling. Don’t open the door for another 10 minutes. Then just wipe away food particles with a clean cloth and dry.

Put a dilute solution of lemon juice in a spray bottle to clean laminate counter tops. Rinse with water and dry afterward.

Scrub grills and grates with lemon juice and salt.

Soak plastic food storage containers in dilute lemon juice to remove stains and odours. Add Bicarbonate of Soda and scrub, rinse and dry.

Remove rust stains from cotton and polyesters. Make a paste with lemon juice and cream of tartar and rub the mixture into the stain. Let the item sit for about a half hour, and then wash as normal (test before use).

Brighten your clothing by soaking clothes in a hot water and lemon juice mix (about a half cup per five litres of water) and then wash as normal. Works best if laundry is then dried in the sun. Lemon juice should not be used on silks or other delicate fabrics.

Remove odours from your refrigerator with a half lemon on a saucer. Change once a week.

Clean food preparation smells from your hands with a dilute solution of water and lemon juice. 

Remove grease stains from clothing. Rub lemon juice into the spot and let sit overnight and then wash as normal.

Clean windows and mirrors. Put a few tablespoons of lemon juice and water into a spray bottle. Works as well as a vinegar solution and smells better.

Keep your toilet bowl fresh. Place a half cup of lemon juice in the bowl and swish with a toilet bowl brush.

Sanitize earrings by placing them in a saucer of lemon juice.

Clean hard water stains on glass shower doors with half a lemon.


Salt of the Earth

To clean enamel cookware, a paste of equal parts salt and vinegar will do an excellent job.

For those burnt bits on the bottom of pans, apply a sprinkling of salt as soon as you’re finished cooking. This will lift them

Extra-greasy pans, add a bit of salt and then use a piece of paper to buff. Follow with a normal wash.

Clean oven spills with a mixture of mostly salt and a dash of cinnamon. Keep this mixture on hand so that you can cover spills (both inside and stove top) as soon as they happen. The salt will absorb the liquid and both salt and cinnamon will fight any odours. Wait to cool completely before wiping away with water.

To clean your automatic coffee maker’s coffee pot, add a few tablespoons of salt to the water and bring the whole thing to a boil.

To remove stubborn coffee stains from cups, use a sponge to rub them with a paste made from salt and vinegar. Rinse with water.

To shine most metals (steel, silver, gold, pewter), make a paste from equal parts salt, flour and vinegar. Use a cloth to rub it on, let it sit for an hour, then rinse with water and wipe dry.

To remove rust from metal, make a paste from salt, cream of tartar and water. Apply the paste and then let the item sit in the sun to dry. Buff clean.

Keep your sponges fresher, longer, by soaking them in a saltwater solution after cleaning with them.

Clean out your refrigerator with a simple mixture of salt and soda water. It works, and there’s no strange smells to infiltrate your food.

Buff and brighten your cutting boards once in a while after using them. Just rub with a damp washcloth dipped in salt.

To deal with water cup rings or other marks on the surface of your wooden furniture, make a paste of vegetable oil and salt. Use a rag to rub it in, then use a clean rag to wipe it off.

To treat mildew stains on cloth, make a paste of equal parts salt and lemon juice. Apply this to the stain and hang in the sun to dry. Follow with normal laundering.

Freshen and whiten your faded or yellowed linens by boiling them in a salt and baking soda solution. In a washing tub or large pot, add 5 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of baking soda. Boil for 15 to 30 minutes, then remove and rinse in cold water.

Remove soap scum from bathroom tile by scrubbing with a solution of 1 part salt in 4 parts vinegar. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.


In The Garden

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

logo In The Garden 2Enjoy April. The lush greenery we have seen in the rains will soon fade and we will rely on our hosepipes and boreholes again, our booster pumps and storage tanks. Winter has its own charm and of course it is the season for bedding plants, for peas and beans, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce and tomatoes. It is worth growing your own organic vegetables because of the taste – nothing like it.


Take a look around your garden and check what has become overgrown in the rains. Large shrubs may be hiding smaller plants under the new growth. You can either prune branches out of the shrub or move the small plants. Other plants will need to be lifted and divided before re-planting in rich new compost. Dig compost into every bed in the vegetable garden and add dry manure and/or comfrey leaves. Rake the earth well removing any stones or old roots, then sow those carrots, beetroot, leeks and radish. Other seeds can go into a seedbed and be transplanted when there are several new leaves, in order to space them properly. Carrot seeds are very fine and when they germinate you will need to thin them out. Don’t hesitate to remove perfectly good tiny seedlings in order to give the others room to grow. They should be at least 5 cm apart. Don’t forget crop rotation, a basic principle of good gardening: do not plant the same crop as last year in the same place. It’s really important to safeguard against nematodes and diseases and to make use of the nitrogen-fixing properties of peas and beans by following them with broccoli or cauliflower or cabbage.


Try a new crop. Strawberries are easy to grow. Buy new plants and plant in well dug compost-enriched soil. Cover the soil with mulch and encircle each plant with a ring of straw – long dried grass that will hold the berries off the soil. The main problem is slugs that emerge at night and feast on your berries before you get a chance to enjoy them. Lots of crunched eggshells round each plant help to deter them.


Try new flowers as well. If you like petunias, change to a different colour. But think of snapdragons (antirrhinums), delphiniums (that gorgeous blue!), pansies, lots of lobelia, delicate scabious and nasturtiums. Plant gladioli if you find the corms. They are a wonderful sight. I wish the seed suppliers would give us more variety but you can buy seeds on the internet. Try Thompson and Morgan in UK for lots of information even if you don’t order seeds. There is even a video on How To Plant Strawberries.


This is a good time to check all your tools and equipment. Look at the blades on the lawnmower in case they need to be sharpened or replaced. Change the filters on a petrol mower. Secateurs do not last for ever so replace them if they are blunt or worn out. Hosepipes, sprinklers and connectors need to be in good order for the dry season.


Your challenge for the dry season: make a fabulous hanging basket planted with colourful flowers.

Fool on the Hill

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

FOTHIn an attempt to be glib, when asked if I went to boarding school as a child I would always reply “No, my parents loved me”. Inverted snobbery played a part in this answer but mostly it was a defence mechanism because although I started my school life, in Hong Kong as the son of a father wealthy enough to send me to a good private day school and a mother who did not believe in boarding schools, by the time I was 11, we were broke and separated. We traded in the apartment in Pokfulam and the “his” and “hers” sports cars for a rented flat above a travel agents in Croydon and a free, comprehensive school that was all we could afford; and we got the education we paid for. Luckily we moved before I lost all grip on academics and I was fortunate enough to end up at a state grammar school that was morphing into a Sixth Form college and had high academic and sporting standards, old fashioned discipline and masters who still wore gowns and worked hard to send the kids onwards with good educations.


Some years later and I am blessed to live in Zambia and be raising three small boys, and have hopefully learned enough from the mistakes of my parents to want more for our kids than they could manage for my sister and me. I have a wife who won’t let me buy us sports cars, which is a good start. Much as we would love to keep our boys close by until they are ready to take on the world we recognise our shortcomings as disciplinarians, sporting mentors and role models, and the limitations for teenagers who are not focused on riding, motocross, soccer or swimming which seem to be the only wholesome pursuits with enough organised activities to distract them from behaving like young adults when they hit adolescence in Lusaka. There are plenty of good schools here and the results at graduation from the school they are at reflect the high standards that can be achieved. But all kids are different and whereas two of our three would probably do fine at our chosen school here, all three will certainly do better with more structure and encouragement (read compulsory attendance) in team sports, drama and music, and outreach programmes.


This is a terrible confession of failure I suppose, to say that a bunch of paid strangers can give my kids a better childhood than I can. However to fill their lives with as many levels of skilled tuition in as many wonderfully diverse opportunities as you can buy at a good boarding school I would have to become something of a super-hero and be accomplished enough at half a dozen sports to coach them and committed enough to involve myself and to drive my kids to achieve in junior cricket, rugby, soccer, tennis and swimming leagues … just for starters. Then I would have to teach myself to read music and master piano, strings, percussion and woodwind instruments and tutor them in these as well as voice and drama. Obviously I would need to up my game considerably in the academic stakes to provide back-up in ten or more subjects so that I could plug any gaps in the knowledge they’ll be provided at school. Finally I would also fill what is left of their weekends after sports fixtures, with camping trips, mountain biking excursions, surfing, archery, debating, scuba diving and community support projects. All this in addition to the better than average, but less than a bargain, education they are already receiving. I know, unlike most of you, I am not up to the job and so we are considering seriously boarding school for the senior years.


Financially this is an horrific commitment that, for the next 18 years, will maintain a steady haemorrhage on our finances. But what better inheritance can you bestow on your children than the finest education that money and circumstances allow? A fat bank account, a property portfolio and a couple of sports cars ……… my kids would argue.

We are, by virtue of where we live, destined to pay for private education and the fact is that South Africa offers some of the highest standards in schools with academic records and facilities equal to or better than, and as steeped in tradition as, any of the flagship British or American schools that have long been the benchmark of educational excellence. And they are less than half the price and a mere two hour plane ride away. Even if you add in the boarding fees and all the travel costs, the most prestigious and expensive of these is only some 60% more than what we would be paying in Lusaka for secondary education as a day scholar. Offset the local transport, drive time, homework time, and the endless train of Shoprite trolleys required to keep the buggers fed and watered (which will become largely the responsibility of the school) and you’ll spend only about 25% more than you would if they were at day school in Lusaka.


As you might have guessed there is a fair amount of self-indoctrination going on here as the bottom line is, I would rather keep my kids beside me. But they are gagging to go; somehow and why-for I know not, believing that boarding school is one big, extended slumber party. Having just returned from a five day, whirlwind tour of South African preparatory and high schools I have to say that I am delighted that they are keen, though it will be me putting on a brave face every time they head off to school. But, it will be worth it to have returned to us at each term’s end, young men who look adults in the eye, shake their hands firmly and call them “Sir” or “Ma’am”. Who play team sports to win as gentlemen regardless, whether they are in the A or the D side, and have learned the important life lessons of competitive teamsmanship. Boys who may not be natural academics but who will have been pushed to learn through the most appropriate (visual, auditory or kinaesthetic) teaching to be the best that they can be, rather than encouraged to rejoice in the easy and more comfortable territory of adequacy. Boys who will hopefully appreciate their good fortune in returning home to a wonderful country and a charmed life each holiday, endowed with the privilege of a fine, structured and well-rounded education and all the opportunities this will afford them. Even if this means that they don’t get to slob around on the sofa watching Disney DX channel every day and they are collected from the airport in a 1998 pick-up truck and not a Porsche 911.


The Bowels of the Earth

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

logo MITHEmerging from time to time from the murk of the pollution and the fumes from the Smelter could be seen the headframes of the two shafts that have served the old Nkana orebody for almost 90 years. Central Shaft and B Shaft are old and show it. The cages in Central Shaft are small, triple deckers, each, not much bigger than a telephone box, that, combined, can take a total of 60 men, crammed in like sardines to go down below. The upper levels of the mine have long been worked out but now a revival of sorts is being experimented with, to leach the remaining bits and pieces of pillars etc and pump the resultant copper rich liquor up to the surface for treatment. But no, the bulk of the work is much further down and that is where the cage takes us, clanging and clattering down the shaft steel guides to the 2120 level. Emerging from the cage you are faced by a long dusty tunnel, the floor concreted, tracks embedded in them for the little train that transports materials to the sub vertical shaft a kilometre away that will take us further down underground. Air pushes past us on its way to ventilate and attempt to cool the workings further down. A whiff of smelter fumes is evidence that the wind on the surface is coming straight from there. Flourescent tubes provide the lighting of this large tunnel but because of the dust and the infrequent lights all is a trifle gloomy. The noise of a train, unseen, grows into a loud racket, it is a train carrying ore from the sub vertical shaft head bin to the main shaft tips, roaring along in a parallel tunnel. One of my tasks is to inspect those tracks and instigate repairs there but not today.


I am destined for deeper things. Other smells intrude. The smell of the dust, of the broken rock and of the explosives that broke them is all there. The mens’ overalls emit a damp laundry, cum change house smell. The unmistakable odour emanating from the mobile Gester (the latrine, a large wheeled tank, a ladder up the side, four holes, screened off from one another, fed by compressed air and water, all designed to reduce the fecal waste into neutral matter that can then be discharged into the drain. When the tank eventually fills up, much like a domestic septic tank on surface, it can be towed away, hoisted to surface and cleaned out, ready for further service) mixes with the definitive odour of the men (I am told that Muzungus smell like pigs), often quite overpowering if they have had Chibuku or Nshima for breakfast. Men coming the other way after night shift, one or two clean, bright eyed and cheerful like the sick bay attendant who has not had his sleep disturbed at all, thank goodness; the rest, tired, dirty, and often soaked from their own sweat, but chattering away for they are bound for the sunshine.


The sub vertical shaft takes us down again to the working levels. Most of us are disgorged on the 3360 level. From there is a haulage which stretches away to the south off which spurs turn to the west to reach the orebody. The haulage eventually arrives at the South Orebody Shaft 4 kilometres away. The tracks must be repaired all the way there as well as in the spurs extending west. The orebody here is complicated; in cross section it writhes like a tortured snake that has come up against a barrier. It all plunges down to the north so that the crosscuts to the west pass underneath some of the folds, go through others and serve as top entrances elsewhere. Further down is my destination, the 3760 level. To get there one must use the ramp. This starts close to the shaft station and goes down at an angle of over 10 degrees. It winds its way down, giving entrance to the 3560 level before plunging further down, in all a walk of close to a mile. If one does not do it on a regular basis the walk down alone is enough to make all sorts of muscles twinge. The thought of doing a day’s work with the climb back up again after is enough to dishearten the keenest soul. Worse to come are the conditions on the level. It is very hot, very humid and wet. The footwall of the haulage is covered in sludge, the tracks are buried in places, the sleepers supporting them are rotten and all needs to be turned into a clean dry haulage with good track. Dream on!  For a start to do this the drains along the side must be rid of the mud within them, the ground being lashed into cars that can then be tipped into the pass that feeds the conveyor belt that will take the ground up to the sub vertical shaft loading box. A fight ensues with the shift boss who wants the cars to produce ore from the boxes fed from blasted ground in the stopes above. It is not until the train derails that he relents, needing our help to put the train back on the tracks and effect a temporary repair there. A search is made for the source of the water; possibly it can be piped from there, leaving the haulage drier so that dried mud can be cleaned out rather than sloppy sludge. It emanates from a crosscut, going into it one is hit by the intense increase of temperature, it is over 50 degrees centigrade, there is no ventilation and the humidity is awful. At the end is a borehole with hot water coming out of it. A low barricade is made at the entrance, pipes are found and the water diverted into them so that work may be improved.


By now, after four hours down on this level, you are soaked to the skin and feeling quite lethargic. The contractor who you are supervising is told to get on with it and you address yourself to the climb back up the ramp. The particulars of the climb are etched into my memory. The water rushing down one side is captured imperfectly just above the 3760 level and diverted to a sump from which submersible pumps send the water up in a series of little pump stations to the main pump station on the 3400. This in turn pumps the water up to another one on the 2200 level. If anything has a hiccup the first place to get flooded is the 3760, not an unusual event. The trudge up commences, an uneven incline so that your footsteps cannot be regular. Your soaking overalls chafe the inside of your thighs, your breath is labored, your feet hurt, then the first bend comes into sight but then, round it comes a snorting monster of a front end loader, an ancient, battered Wagner ST2 B, being used as a glorified wheelbarrow. You curse as you have to retreat those few hard earned steps back to a cubby in the sidewall to let the loader pass you. As it does so a wave of noise and heat assails you. The air is consumed by the loader and replaced by a wave of exhaust fumes that leaves you giddy for a bit. You wish that you could turn the loader round, climb into the bucket and get taken up the ramp, but that is a firing offence! So you then recommence your climb, first round to the right and then back round to the left until you reach the small flat piece at the entrance to the 3560. You stop to allow your heart to stop pounding and your breath to normalize. You then continue up a long endless incline, all the muscles in your legs complaining, you, cursing yourself for having such a God awful way of earning a living, knowing that you will have to visit this particular work place again this week, and, once again glancing up the ramp, seeing no end to it, looking down again at your poor aching feet as they slowly plod their way on up. Worse is to follow. The incline of the ramp sharply increases for a further 300 metres. It is gut wrenching, heart breaking, leg muscle screaming pain and this is just travelling to and from your place of work. The top of the ramp arrives; you stagger on to the station. A water tap is there and you drink the tepid stuff as if it were an elixir from heaven. You slump down onto an empty oil drum (on its way to surface where it will be nicked, opened up and flattened to repair the roof of someone’s house) and slowly recover your composure. Round the corner, at the tips, a whistle goes and shortly thereafter a blast shakes the whole area. Secondary blasting of big rocks is being carried out on the grizzly bars set there to prevent oversize rock jamming up the loading box. This blasting should have been carried out on grizzly bars set above the stope boxes in the section but the chaps have found that by removing the bars they can get the rocks into the cars quicker, thereby achieving their tally but just passing the problem on. The answer to the problem actually lies in the correct charging of the fans of holes that break the in situ ground in the stopes in the first place but the level of supervision at this rather lowly but essential task is poor to nonexistent. You cannot really blame the supervisor, the working conditions are such that no one would want to spend any more than the minimum amount of time in the sections.


After an hour on the station the little auxiliary cage, known as a Mary Ann, comes down to pick me up. The main cage is on hoist examination whereby the winding engine and its controls are checked every week. Six men can get into the little Mary Ann, twelve try; most of whom have no right to be leaving the working area early. The return to surface is slow and labored, the Mary Ann creeps up slowly to the 2120 level; the walk to the main shaft is slow and labored; the main shaft is also on examination so B shaft is used. The queue to get on the cage is long but after another 30 minutes you are given a place and up to surface, glorious surface, you go. A shower and then you must attend a progress meeting on the rehabilitation works on the 3760. In it some silly, jumped up, official has the temerity to say that, despite all the assistance rendered by the mine, the contractor is not attaining the targets set. You suggest that the multifarious problems that beset the contractor had best be examined on site rather than in an air conditioned office on surface. The suggestion is met with disapproval and you are requested to intensify your efforts to achieve target. The thought of actually facing reality would be far too much for these poor chaps! Such is modern day mining. The meeting drags on until 5 pm. All you want to do is go home, get a beer and go to bed, for in the morning yet another visit to yet another awful place, in the bowels of the earth, is scheduled.

Mufulira Mystique

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small coverThe mention of Mufulira Dam usually meets with an empty gaze. ‘Oh, that’s that place out . . . near, um . . . Mufulira?’ is the general comment usually accompanied by an indecisive wave of a hand suggestive of it being ‘over there somewhere’. A popular weekend recreational choice back in the 70’s and 80’s for those who lived on the Copperbelt, in the last few years however, it has met with decline and no longer visited.


Now under the watchful gaze of Mopani Mine’s John Munro, the dam is slowly springing to life again. It was so uncared for that the grass had been allowed to grow past shoulder height and it was barely possible to see the jetty when he first took it over. No one but local fishermen made use of it at all and the dam itself was a favourite place for border jumpers from Congo to try and cross.


We spent the Independence holiday there last year, even going as far as to spend two nights camped out in the grounds of the Boat Club. Admittedly, we were the only ones there, but there are active plans underway to resurrect the camping grounds and ablution block. For someone who has known far, far worse than what this club house has to offer in terms of toilets and showers, I was actually very impressed. The toilets were clean and supplied with toilet paper and the showers had both hot and cold water. What else do you need?


Interest in the dam has already begun in the Mufulira community. A number of companies and private individuals keep launches on the dam and some people just come with their boats for the day. We took a sail board and were surprised at how strong the wind was out on the dam. It was great fun going out, although one did have a slight feeling of trepidation that getting back may not be so easy! Many people say that there are no rivers or dams in Africa without crocodiles, so perhaps wind surfing wasn’t quite the right water sport to indulge in. However, I also think it’s a good idea to ask the locals, and none of them had seen a croc there in years.


The dam was once a popular power boat racing spot and a lookout tower on a thin peninsula near the jetty confirms this. Unfortunately the rooms in the tower are in a state of disrepair, but part of the resurrection plan is to have them painted and the glass replaced in the windows. The tower itself is being converted into a small one bedroomed chalet with a view to die for. It is also hoped that all forms of watercraft will be encouraged to return once all renovations have been made and the dam can be publicised more widely.


John has raised sponsorship through a local businessman and work will soon be starting on a large, open-sided lapa set amongst the Acacia trees on a peninsula near the jetties. The lapa with its tranquil setting, will provide an additional facility for private functions should they be so desired. Plans are afoot to lawn spacious areas underneath shady fig trees along the same peninsula for picnic spots. The braai shelters have already been revamped and are available for immediate use.


In the past the dam was also well-known for its motocross trail, one that is now sadly overgrown and dilapidated. Although not currently high on the list of priorities, there is a possibility that this may one day be useable once again. Everything depends on demand and how widely used the course might be.


A few years ago a Mufulira resident began building chalets near the dam in the hope that this might also encourage people to come out for the weekend. Plans have since gone ahead to complete these as well as refurbish two other old cottages so shortly there will be 3 or 4 self contained chalets for rental. John Munro also hopes to introduce wildlife into the area, as long as he can put measures in place to prevent poaching. In February 2013 John arranged the release of 100,000 fingerlings into the dam to help regenerate the fish population which had sadly been depleted through illegal and frequent use of nets. He and his team of workers have already removed and destroyed over 300 metres of illegal fish nets. Illegal fishermen have been sensitised to the situation and prosecutions will follow if their activities continue.


Renovations also continue in the main club house, which is rather weathered and dated. It is the type of place you imagine to be full of ghosts, nightly re-enacting their former pursuits and conversations. There are photos in a crumbling frame of parties held at least twenty five years ago and various trophies and shields won in long ago tournaments. Work has started on the kitchen which was in a particular state of disrepair. There are hopes that a rejuvenated kitchen will be able to serve bar food in the future and that this will be one of the main draws to the dam. Braai packs are already on sale from the barman. In Mufulira, one is not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to places to eat out so it will also provide the vital ‘thing to do’ at the weekends.


The bar area is actually quite cosy; it’s very English pub-like in its decor and is even now able to offer a reasonably wide selection of drinks (I wouldn’t ask for their cocktail menu, however!) The swimming pool is in a sad state of disrepair and sponsors to rebuild it are currently being sought so watch this space. A small playground has been introduced for the children and this too is becoming a draw card feature for Mufulirans and their families.


Various benches and chairs placed between the club house and the water make watching the sun set possible – and an enjoyable experience as it invariably is in Africa. There is little more pleasurable than watching a day slowly draw to its end; people making their way slowly home and hearing the water softly lapping at the jetty. The best thing is that it is still possible to do, so make the most of it and go to Mufulira.


Down In The Drink! (Part 1)

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small coverI was very unhappy about the radios in my Cessna Super Skywagon 185. All efforts to get the local radio engineer to put them in workable order were wanting, he certified them as perfect, but once I got airborne, they always failed, when I had to return to base soon after take-off. Furthermore after my bad experience with the insurance for my 180 taildragger, which another pilot carelessly rammed, and I was paid out only a small percentage of the aircraft value, I decided to insure my Cessna 185 for full hull liability with Lloyd’s of London.


I had to return to Britain, to attend the execution of my late father’s will, and there was also the possibility of a contract to fly an ecological survey for a sub-Saharan Africa state which had been promised me by an ecologist friend. I decided to fly the taildragger back to Britain, attend to business, fix the damn radios and tout around Lloyd’s of London for the best insurance rate. This decided, very little would stop me!


I left Lusaka in April, as I passed over the riverine country of the Bangweulu which I knew so well, I noted the amazing amount of water which inundated the system from the mountains of the north. I landed at Kasama, filling with fuel, and using the few remaining Kwacha in my purse, from now on expenses would have to be negotiated in hard currency!


My course took me over the mountains around the north of Lake Nyasa (Malawi) and I enjoyed the fantastic view from eleven thousand feet as I passed over one of the largest of the Rift Valley lakes. The high LivingstoneMountains beyond, commanded my attention as I wound my way between their imposing peaks. Now the flat country began, and I crossed and re-crossed the Rufijji and RuahaRivers, recollecting their geography from previous safaris on the ground.


Approaching Dar-es-Salaam, I called air traffic control again and again on my reluctant radio, then, as I approached the airport to make a visual circuit, and join the traffic pattern, I was horrified to see a light jet heading towards me, I turned out of the aircraft’s path and overhead Dar-es-Salaam called the airport again. This time I got an answer, and I joined the circuit and soon was clearing customs and immigration. I called an engineering company and arranged for the radios to be examined and overhauled before I progressed any further. This, as I surmised, was a time wasting negative exercise.


Money was a big problem in Tanzania, although one of the best known British banks, had given me a fine credit line, I could hardly raise enough money to pay the fuel bills I required, my hotel account had to be settled out of my emergency dollar billfold stuck in my sock. As I walked from the new airport terminal where I had paid my fees to the old terminal where my 185 was parked, an enterprising teen-age thug attempted to mug me. He had obviously not made allowance for my bad temper at the Tanzanian economy, because I quickly kicked him in his private parts, and as he sat down howling with surprise, I caught him two shrewd blows to the head with my heavy, leather brief case. Then I walked on to the terminal, so mollified by my quick victory, I forgot to report the mugger to the police.


My flight to Nairobi took me to the east of Mount Kilimanjaro, at 19,300 ft. the highest mountain in Africa, where, a few months before, I had played ‘Scotland The Brave’ – my Regimental ‘Quick March’ on my bagpipes, but the weather was overcast, so I never saw the top of the mountain, as I weaved a path between the storm clouds along the way. Arriving at Nairobi, again I experienced radio problems, so I held my correct altitude until near WilsonAirport where I managed to make a tenuous contact.


Just in time I heard Wilson announce that the main runway, zero-seven was closed for maintenance, I joined the pattern for runway one-four, which takes one over the military hospital, with a short final brushing the roofs of the cars and trucks driving on the Langata road. As I passed over the hospital, I felt the drift correction required to hold the centreline, and called the tower:


“Wilson this is Nine Juliet Mike Charlie Kilo, finals, this may be a touch-and-go, as I feel the aircraft is near maximum crosswind capability.”


I noticed that at my approach speed of 90 knots my crab angle varied between 12-16 degrees, which meant that the crosswind component was over twenty knots, very near the maximum for the Cessna 185. The tower confirmed this with the reply:


“Nine Juliet Charlie Kilo, cleared to land, wind zero six zero at twenty knots gusting twenty-five”


I held my sideslip approach with some power on, and flattened my attitude for the wheel landing aligned straight up the centreline of the runway, which would be a safer option than a three-pointer. The main wheels kissed on, and I was soon holding full right rudder. The tail slowly dropped, there was a sudden swerve to the left, which neither differential braking nor the rudder, already flat against the stops, could control, it was time to fly again, and I firewalled the throttle and pushed on the control column to get the tail up and functioning again.


“Wilson, this is Nine Juliet Charlie Kilo, – overshooting – too much crosswind, I’ll try it once more.”


Wilson cleared me for another approach fortunately, with the main runway closed, and strong crosswinds, there was no student traffic, though I could guess the East African Aero Club’s windows were filled with interested spectators.


As I came over the hospital again, the indications were much the same, all I could hope for was a temporary lull in the wind, I touched down briefly before the aircraft started to weathercock into the wind. Now discretion was the better part of valour, and no doubt disappointing the watchers safe on the ground, I powered out of the swing and set course for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which was unhappy to receive me, they were evidently of the opinion that small six-seat aircraft made their apron look untidy, and they questioned me closely as to why I did not land at Wilson, It would be too difficult to explain to a non-pilot the exigencies of taildragger aircraft, so I just contented myself with explaining that Wilson’s main runway was closed.


The next day, with only fifteen knots crosswind I had no trouble in bringing the Cessna smoothly down on runway one-four, and as I taxied backtracking, I was concerned to note not one, but two Cessna 185’s with recently broken wings and propellers pushed to a corner of the Cessna Dealer’s apron, obviously this time I had made the right decision!


For the taildragger neophyte, I will explain the rule that states for every sixty knots of forward speed, a crab angle of one degree indicates a crosswind component of one knot, simple mathematics will give the component for your own aircraft approach speed.


To be continued …

South Africa – The New Coloniser

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small coverI grew up in post-Independence Zimbabwe, a time when Mugabe was following his quasi-Marxist ideals.  Luxury goods were hard to come by and anything imported was viewed with a mixture of suspicion and awe.  I remember my mother buying tins of fish from Mozambicans who had stolen across the border near Mutare, keen to sell off the food aid from West Germany they had recently received.  Under pain of death, we were sworn to secrecy: no one was to be told where the fish had come from and yet just by having it in the pantry it would have created suspicion.   It was to be another twenty years at least before tinned fish such as tuna could be found for sale in Zimbabwean shops.


South Africa’s apartheid state was an enemy of Zimbabwe and very little could be imported from it.  Those who did venture there usually returned with stashes of niceties: dried fruit, Marmite and decent chocolate.  In turn, the Zimbabwean economy expanded and the country produced its own goods.  With that grew a certain pride in ourselves: we were the bread basket of Southern Africa and all we produced was our own.


Fast forward to 2006.  The Zimbabwean economy is in ruins and the shops are empty.  Unless you want pool cleaner or toilet paper, which for some reason there is always plenty, there is nothing to eat.  Strict price controls mean that companies cannot afford to operate in the current climate of hyper-inflation and, unless they can feed an export market, they are forced to close.  Fast forward once more, this time to the present.  The shelves are full again, mostly due to the use of the US Dollar as the main currency.  This time, however, it’s local goods which are hard to get.  Everyone’s buying South African products, not just chocolate and tuna fish, but basics such as milk and even fruit and vegetables.  Zimbabwean made goods are often more expensive than their imported counterparts as local industry struggles to get back on its feet.  Their packaging is often inferior to that of the South Africans, giving the impression that the product itself is not up to scratch.


Street vendors of fruit and vegetables are really feeling the pinch.  When there was nothing in the shops, they did well out of people who bought their wares.  The threat of cholera and the availability of superior quality produce in supermarkets, mean many of these people have now lost their livelihoods.  Zimbabweans have become snobs as well.  They’d rather delight in being able to buy South African cheese than support their own producers.  This may in part be due to the novelty of choice after doing without for so long.  Unfortunately, they have also lost that old pride in themselves, in what was good about the country, which is now viewed only with suspicion.


However, the prevalence of South African goods in shops is not confined to Zimbabwe.  A little further north, in Zambia, South African shops, not just products, are the order of the day.  Whether it’s clothing, food or spare parts for cars, no one wants it locally made.  Shopping centres are springing up all over Southern Africa, offering all the big name South African stores.  The irony is that it creates a sense of pride in the local to have these shops on offer.  They have somehow made it because a little slice of South Africa is available down the road.  It’s just like Eastgate or Rosebank they’ll tell you, eyes shining with delight.  Cynics like myself can only hope the big superstores never make it to Zimbabwe.  A couple have tried, but failed.  And just as I used to long for Smarties and Mars bars as a child, I now look forward to my next visit and the sweet taste of cheap chocolate.

Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small cover“Dr Livingstone, I presume?” were the famous words uttered by Henry Morton Stanley when he found David Livingstone at Ujiji, Tanzania on 28 October 1871.

“Dr Livingstone, I presume?”  is also the title of a song, written in 1968 by the English rock band, The Moody Blues.

Dr. Livingstone, I presume,
Stepping out of the jungle gloom,
Into the midday sun.

What did you find there,
Did you stand a while and stare,
Did you meet anyone?

I’ve seen butterflies galore,
I’ve seen people big and small,
I’ve still not found what I’m looking for.


Stanley’s 19th Century search for Livingstone and indeed Livingstone’s own books and the talks that he gave about his travels in Africa gripped the imagination of Victorian Britain and he was met with approbation and adulation wherever he went. Yet here we are, 200 years after his birth on 19 March 1813 and 140 years after his death on 1 May 1873, and people all around the world are still inspired by his story. Some have even called him ‘Africa’s first freedom fighter’ in recognition of his efforts to stop the slave trade. And, of course, let us not forget that he was also Zambia’s first tourist, visting and naming the Victoria Falls in November 1855.


Events taking place in Livingstone (Zambia) during 2013 to celebrate the Bicentenary of his birth are many with a Inter-business Football Competition on 13 April and an Academic conference entitled  Imperial Obsessions David Livingstone, Africa and world history: a life and legacy reconsidered from 19 to 21 April. Speakers at this conference come from Universities and Museums all round the world including Scotland, Malawi and, of course, Zambia, the countries where he spent much of his time and where he was born and died.


1 May, a public holiday (Labour Day) will also be Livingstone Memorial Day and 4 May will see the hosting of the David Livingstone Bicentenary Golf Tournament. For further information on these events, email  For information on events later in the year (and there are many) check future editions of The Lowdown for the final details. These events include motocross, a regatta and a music festival.


We will also be bringing you a little bit more about the man, his travels and his discoveries.

Falls March 2001 004

Finance Bank 002

Northern Western Hotel 005



Written By: The Lowdown - Mar• 31•13

Cover - 2013-03 cond

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.*



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.





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.


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.

Chipoma Falls

Chipoma Falls


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


Ilondola Mission


Ilondola Mission










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 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 .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.