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Mpongwe and the Mumba Mosaic project, Day Three: Legends, adventures and the tragedy of poaching

Mwabuka Mwani!

Good morning to you! Writing about Thursday on Saturday, having spent most of Friday sleeping off some manner of malaise (likely heat/lack of sleep induced) that seems to have corrected itself now.

So today (day three – stay with me) we had a break from work. (I’ve only worked two days, but the others have been here a week.) We embarked on an adventure around Hilda’s family’s (and neighbouring) lands. Hilda has a lot of family and the family has a lot of land. In fact, Hilda’s a Princess, as her father is Chief. (Although, she explained, she can’t inherit because the line is matrilineal – only the mother knows who the father is.) We were joined by Benson – a local Community Development Officer – and, naturally, a friend of Hilda’s.

The journey began with a drive out to a wheat farm – one of the largest in Zambia. Apparently it also used to grow coffee and flowers. What exactly it grows now we weren’t able to establish as the guards at the gate weren’t letting us in. Such farms may be a boon to the economy and provide employment, but all isn’t rosy. This farm has been known to exploit children as coffee pickers, and the truck drivers play a significant role in spreading HIV in the area. There’s something they don’t want us to see.

We drove on through lands becoming noticeably richer and more fertile – past women washing clothes in the river, with healthy herds of goats and cows ambling about close by.

I’m taking you to Lake Kashiba said Hilda. This is a sacred place with historical significance. A long time  ago a group of people from the goat tribe suffered a great upset. They could not recover. So, they formed a row along the path to Kashiba, holding hands. And then, one at a time, they walked into the river and they drowned. Their bodies were never found – the lake is so deep that divers have never been able to find the bottom. They say that if you catch a fish from Kashiba, it won’t cook. It will just keep swimming in the pot. And if you go to the lake at night, you will see white clothes all around, where the goat tribe have been doing their washing. It’s a sacred place. People are very quiet when they come here.

It certainly is a beautiful, tranquil spot. The water in the limestone lake is almost emerald green. Swallows and diving birds dart across the surface. It’s clear enough to see shoals of fish. The surrounding trees are alive with birdsong and the trilling of insects. All around the shore, igneous rocks glisten. Hilda found a broken piece that contained rose quartz crystals. Having a short stroll into the undergrowth – heat dessicated leaves crackling underfoot – I startled a fairy. She flitted away on bright yellow wings.

On our way back out, we stopped by a stream to fill our water bottles, and Hilda chatted to an elder man passing with his cows. He provided an addition to the Kashiba legend; A diver went down through the underground stream that leads from the lake. He wanted to find where it came out. He was down there eight hours. When he came out, he talked about everything he had seen. And then he went mad. 

Hilda had told us that there are strong currents in the lake, which could explain why bodies are never found there. She said that sometimes the bodies appear at the wheat farm, which has a stream that’s fed by the lake. Certainly there is likely to be a whole system of caves and underground rivers attached to the lake – having looked up the geology and discovered its limestone.

The next part of our adventure was to see giraffes at Kafue lodge. An exciting prospect, even though, as none of had any money (it’s proven ridiculously difficult to get money changed) we also had no food or water – other than a few bottles purified from the stream we’d passed. (The plan had been to go to Ndola to sort out money. Didn’t quite pan out that way, however.) After a couple of hours driving along tracks in the bush (scenic, but oh so hot and thirsty) it became apparent we were perhaps a tad lost. However, our extended drive did provide me with a chance to talk with Benson about the benefits of Appreciative Inquiry for community development work. I’ve promised to spend some time talking him through the model. (We had previously spoken about the similarities and differences between social care in Zambia and the UK.)

A few stops to ask for directions from roadside huts, and we finally found ourselves by the gate to the lodge. We were told we’d missed the giraffes (presumably they have other appointments to attend to in the afternoons) but we did see the running-away-bottoms of warthogs (including delightful BEBE WARTHOGS) and zebras as we drove up. At reception we were met by the lodge’s professional greeter – a ginger and white exceedingly friendly young dog, loosely modeled on the pointer, or possibly foxhound, variety. We quickly became friends (LOOK how well I can SIT! LOOK LOOK!) although, as he was an ‘entire’ male, I did have to tell him at one point that I didn’t like him in that way.

We were clearly off season as there wasn’t a soul around in terms of visitors. We were soon greeted by a friendly South African woman however, who arranged for some food for us, and bought cool drinks to slake our thirst. It’s a scenic spot on the Kafue river, and reasonably priced as safaris go – about 35 pounds pppn, 5 pounds each for a game drive. (Looking up more information about it, it appears the lodge is actually a ‘game farm’ that’s recently opened to visitors. It’s also up for sale, if you have around $3.8 million to spare.)

Our friendly host (the woman, not the dog. He was mostly just interested in leaping around and belly rubs) told us she’s studying nature conservancy. On hearing about our work with the village, she asked whether we’re including environmental sustainability. A good point. As we know from our permaculture friend Graham Burnett, both people and planet need to be considered together if people are to thrive.

Whilst waiting for dinner, and enjoying the ambiance, we met the resident anti-poacher (and, I think, manager?) An imposing Boer who’d served with the British paratroop regiment. Like every park across Africa, Kafue is at constant war with poachers: They come across the river. They break my fences. Every morning. Every evening. We had fifteen just this morning and more will come tonight. It’s relentless. I cannot shoot them. I shoot at them. And I shoot their dogs. Have you ever seen what a hunting dog will do to an animal? Bastards. They come over, they take my game. Just one of these animals is worth $20,000. The government does nothing. No one does anything. The larger parks, there are enough animals that stocks can replenish. Not here. Soon there will be no game animals left in Kafue. They will kill everything.

He was a very angry, very aggressive man. Hilda tried to speak with him about having words with the chief of the people doing the poaching. (Needless to say, Hilda knows the chief.) Our friend barked a contemptuous laugh. Your friend the chief, the bush meat he serves you? That’s my meat. My game. It’s easy to understand the anger, however. What must it be like to battle against such relentless attack with no support; no one prepared to treat the crime seriously. If Africa’s wildlife – and heritage – is to survive, governments need to take more effective action on poaching. And, concurrent with that, attitudes need to change at the local level. Benson said how much he’d love to bring his family to the lodge, and how they would love to see the animals. Even Benson had never seen a giraffe in the wild. Perhaps educating children about the wonders of wildlife is a good place to start.

We returned home late and tired from our adventures. Sadly, however, I was to be denied sleep. The down side of staying at motel style accommodation is the noise and the light. A noisy bar full of excitable chaps watching (on this occasion) the Zambian music awards. The bar’s right outside my room. And bright lights surround the complex – I’m denied the stars I was so looking forward to watching. Still – very comfy double bed and a hot shower. That’s not to be sneezed at. The music awards finished about 1am. Which is about when my neighbour began his amorous adventures. He’d clearly found himself an energetic and highly skilled woman as his vociferous appreciation continued till well after 5am.

Sleep deprivation certainly contributed to my inability to function on day 4. Consequently I retired at mid-day to sleep off a massive headache, dizziness and general not-at-all-rightness. Normal service resumed today, however – day 5; 12 September 2015. That historic day which saw Jeremy Corbyn elected as Leader of the Opposition.

Beer was drunk.

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