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Feb 2012

Finch Bay Eco Hotel in Tripadvisor Top 25

Posted by / in South America /

The Finch Bay Eco Hotel in Puerto Ayora, Galápagos, has been included in Trip Advisor’s Top 25 Best Hotels in South America 2012. The hotel, which already holds the #1 spot on Trip Advisor’s hotels in in the islands, now ranks among the finest establishments on the continent.

“We’re delighted with this award,” says General Manager, Xavier Burbano de Lara. “but also full of humility. The reviews written by guests from around the world on Trip Advisor give us great feedback in order to improve. To be included in their users’ Top 25 Best Hotels in South America is a reflection of our staff’s dedication and perseverance – especially considering the Tsunami wave in March which put us out of action for a few days. Our philosophy is and always will be this quote by Rabindranath Tagore “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy”.”

The Finch Bay is the only beachfront hotel in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, located on a quiet, secluded side of the town, away from cars and traffic. In 2009, it added 6 Ocean View suites to its 21 Garden View rooms, completing its facilities which include an idyllic swimming pool and relaxing shared areas.

The Finch Bay formula of day-explorations of the islands aboard its own yachts combined with a relaxing ‘disconnect’ ambience back at the hotel has proved ever-popular with guests, who are staying for longer and longer, according to Burbano de Lara. It’s also ideal for those who want to enjoy its idyllic setting for a few nights following a cruise in the islands.

It’s the only hotel in Puerto Ayora to operate its own yachts of surrounding islands: the 16-guest Sea Finch and the 20-guest Sea Lion.

It offers attractive “day-trip plus accommodation and meals” packages for guests aboard these, as well as activities such as snorkeling mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, visits to see giant tortoises, and scuba diving in the world-famous Galápagos Marine Reserve.

Taking into account the fragile and unique environment of its location, the hotel implements best practices in sustainable tourism at every level of its operation – whether growing its own organic vegetables, recycling, monitoring water use, installing more solar panels or contributing to environmental and social initiatives through its support of the Fundación Galápagos-Ecuador and the Children of Galápagos Foundation.

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Jan 2012

Abu Camp introduces Baby Elephant Warona

Posted by / in Africa /

bu Camp, located in Botswana’s pristine Okavango Delta, is proud to announce that Shireni, one of the Camp’s leading elephants, gave birth to her third surviving calf, a healthy female, at 22h05 on the 17th December. Measuring approximately 90cm at the shoulder and weighing about 110kg, the new-born stood on her four own feet, wobbling, within 20 minutes. The elephant handlers have named her Warona, the SeTswana name meaning ‘For Us.’

Reaching up to her mother, Warona suckled properly for the first time at 07h00 the next morning, 10 hours after the birth, and now takes short naps of 5-10 minutes. Closely watched over by her doting big brother, Abu Junior, the new-born calf is already showing signs of playfulness as can be seen in this video of her at three days of age.

Footage copyright AfriScreen Films and EBS. Used with kind permission.

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Nov 2011

Puppets, Shakers and Chopsticks!!

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

The last few weeks on board the Book Bus have really demonstrated that a great variety of skills are welcome and a bit hit with the children and the project. We have had a professional puppeteer as one of our volunteers and the rest of the group have been “roped” in to various plays and performances! It has really been great fun for all involved.

We did an amazing (if I say so myself) puppet version of “The Rainbow Fish” for the grades 1&2 at Maanu Mbwami and a repeat performance at Cowboy Cliffs. All the characters were made from materials found on the bus and the “stage” was a reed mat decorated with blue and green crepe paper fronds…(sea and reeds…of course!!) The book was narrated whilst the action was going on. There was much laughter backstage, I have to admit, especially at the thumb piano music attempt and I think we had as much fun as the children and teachers!! The children were enthralled; I really don’t think any of them have seen anything like this before. They especially liked meeting the puppets afterwards! This is really bringing a book to life. This is making reading enjoyable and associating books with fun – this is what the Book Bus is about!

There was a lot more puppet fun during the fortnight, as you may imagine, as well as musical interludes, drama and plenty of action songs! The children respond well to almost any type of fun activity, if they haven’t seen it before they may be shy and take a while to get into it but rest assured they will soon be singing, jumping, shaking or bopping alongside side their Book Bus teachers!

We used old water bottles with some gravel (Grubby’s drive is now a little less gravelly – sshhh!!) inside and covered with material to make homemade shakers. What a simple activity but such fun. The kids at Cowboy Cliffs, Lubasi and Zweilopili are all proud owners of fun but noisy shakers! I wonder what their parents said when they got home?!! The following week at Zweilopili some of the smaller children who hadn’t been in the class had their own shakers. They had obviously gone home and copied the idea and been amazingly creative to get around the lack of glue. We had glued the fabric to the bottles but they had used strands of thin plastic taken from the maize flour bags to make a rope to tie the fabric on!! Using their initiative and being creative – another aspect of education the Book bus tries to develop! It’s so great to see this kind of thing in action even after we leave!!

Of course there were plenty of conventional lessons going on too. Many volunteers this year have brought books about themselves and their lives back home. This is a great ice breaker and the kids love to see photos of family, friends and places visited. One volunteer had visited china and had a page in her book with pictures from China. One photo showed people eating with chopsticks. She had brought dozens of pairs of disposable chopsticks from home and when the children had read and learnt about China, they got their own set of chopsticks and had to try and pick up various sizes of pompom!! That lesson was a great success!!

To be a Book Bus volunteer what you need is a passion for helping these children. Some initiative, a willingness to get stuck in, a sense of humour and a degree of flexibility (as T.I.A This IS Africa!!) will help you along the way. As we were driving along to school one day, with all the children running alongside, shouting, smiling, laughing and waving, one of our young volunteers looked out the window and said “These children are just like anti-depressants”! I couldn’t have said it better, it’s not just us “giving” to them, they are also giving back something…the smiles and the welcome that you get everyday from the pupils is so rewarding and I think every Book bus volunteer will agree, it can’t help but make you smile too!!

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Nov 2011

Cowboy Cliff – In Memorandum.

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

In Memorandum – Cowboy Cliff.

Anyone who has been on the Book Bus in Livingstone in the past 3 years will know of Cowboy Cliff. Either through our visits to his preschool and/or through his informative and much loved cycle tours. Today there is some very sad news, Cliff passed away this morning at the age of 41. He will be very much missed by his 2 children, his family, his staff, his community, by me and by everyone who was fortunate to have met him.

I have known Cliff every since I have been in Livingstone. He always welcomed me and our volunteers with open arms. He was well known throughout the town, not just for his famous hat, that gave him his nickname, but also for the tireless work he did for his community.

I have always said if there were more people like Cliff in African societies, then they would probably not be as much need for foreign aid. He was honest, reliable, big hearted and always thinking about his community before himself.

It was him who founded the preschool because of lack of education for young people in his area. It was him who helped to bring piped water to his compound. He started the solar cooking project in Livingstone and organised a team to help educate people. He was always smiling, jovial and busy rushing off to do some good somewhere and I will never forget his “killer” handshake!!

He was passionate about his school and realised how vital it is for children to get a good start in life through pre-school education. He was a big supporter of the Book bus and I feel I can say that every volunteer who had the privilege to visit his school will have fond memories of the times spent there, of the dedication of the teachers and the active participation of the pupils. Thank you Cliff.

I will never forget the times we spent together at the preschool, on amazing bike rides or on other projects, like the time we took the whole school and parents on a boat cruise on the Zambezi. It was his son’s birthday but he wanted to share the occasion with as many people as possible – typical Cliff.

Cowboy Cliff will be sorely missed by me and everyone who knew him. I hope that his good work and generous spirit will live on even after his death.

Kelly. 25 November 2011.

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Nov 2011

Book Buses, Crowded Buses & just Plain Crazy Buses

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

The last week of Bookbus in Livingstone coincided with the general election here in Zambia. Campaigning, which mostly seems to involve driving around in cars with “bad quality” speakers on top, shouting (something Zambians are very good at!!) at people to vote for you, has been going on a while at all times of day and night. The ruling MMD party has been in power for 20 years and lots of people think it’s time for change.

The actual election was held on a Tuesday and this basically meant lots of teachers and pupils took it as an excuse to have several days, or even the whole week, off school!! . In fact LOADS of things stopped working because of the election. The whole of Livingstone ran out of bottled coke/fanta, you couldn’t post a parcel, and buses were cancelled. Basically anything that wasn’t working that week was blamed on “oh, it’s because of the election”!!

Everything finished well with Bookbus, our last morning was at Cowboy Cliffs preschool and we took some bread, jam and orange squash and had a little picnic! As always it was sad to say goodbye. We finished up with an impromptu disco courtesy of our taxi drivers radio. Even the eachers and taxi driver were bopping away with the kids and the yellow t-shirted M’zungus to the current Zambian hits! The bus is all packed up now and ready for it’s period of hibernation!!

Now I was meant to travel to Malawi on Friday night with Claire and Bella, 2 Bookbus volunteers, who were joining the project (and the Book Bus Truck) in Malawi, but all buses were cancelled because of the election result being declared! (…Because of the election!!!) The opposition won.

Anyway, we finally set off on the first leg of the journey from Livingstone to Lusaka on Saturday night. We had really loud music for the entire 8 hours even though it was the middle of the night, I kept wondering why no one else was getting annoyed but it wasn’t until the last 20 minutes that I realised that it was ONLY our speaker that was working, the rest of the bus was in silence!

The next step involved changing at Lusaka at 3 in the morning and was, as always, an adventure. There are always so many people clambering to help you, to carry your bag, to show you right bus etc all in the hope of a small tip! And of course 3 m’zungu girls look easy prey but I’ve done it so many times now, I know how to go about it, as soon as you answer them in their language they know you belong and the crowd around you thins out a bit!!

The next bus was Lusaka to Lilongwe and it was literally falling to pieces. It was scheduled to leave at 5am but didn’t move an inch until 7am! It was packed and the aisle was full of crates, baggage and kids. It smelt like dry fish and halfway through the journey I found out why…as a bag of dried fish fell from the overhead racks and landed tail first on my hand as I was dozing. I have 2 nice small scars from where the fish tails cut me! A kid next to us was sick and generally it was just pretty funny…but only because there were 3 of us! We amused most of the bus by taking only one of the three free fantas we were entitled to and sharing it! That’s because we know loo stops are rare or non-existent on trans-African buses. Any food we need is bought through the windows at any opportune stop. Local people with baskets of fruit, chips, roasted corn cobs or even fried baby birds are encamped at any place a bus needs to stop, e.g. any police road block and as soon as the bus stops they crowd around holding up their wares. All transactions are done through the window at the top of your voice!

We pass miles of empty bush, cross the Luangwa river, drive through villages and small towns. The side of the road is always full of people walking along to the markets, to collect water or just going about their daily business. In towns there are markets with people selling all kinds of things from used clothes to fried goat, form bike tyres to flip flops! In Malawi they are very inventive with naming their shops. “No farming No life Shop.” “No money, No friends Hardware” or my personal favourite so far “Let them talk, such is life Grocery”. It can be a good way to pass the time trying to find the funniest title!

One boarder crossing and 11 hours later we arrived in Lilongwe. We spent the night in Lilongwe and then got ANOTHER bus which was meant to leave at 7.30am but left 2 hours late! If we thought the other one was crowded then this was extremely crowded…dictionary definition of “packed like sardines”! Hundreds (well dozens!)of people in the aisle!! And it stopped at EVERY village on the way and it was always the one woman at the back with 10 bags and the chicken that needed to get off and nobody thought that leaving a bit of space in the aisle was a good idea!! We had to all get off twice for police but then everyone piled back on, usually the aisle people first and then nobody could get to their seat! CRAZY! Another bag fell on my head but thankfully no fish!! We finally arrived after 8 and a half hours….it was meant to take 4 and a half!!! There was a bit of a sense of humour failure after about 6 hours but we rallied by playing 20 questions and “seat dancing” to our iPods and that earned us a lot more stares!!

We are finally reunited with the Book bus truck, at lake Malawi, right on the beach and seek out the bar for a cool drink, without having to worry when the next loo stop will be!!
African Bus Journeys….there’s always a story in them! I wonder what will happen when I retrace my steps on my return to Livingstone?

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Sep 2011

Holiday Fun Continues!!

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

The second two weeks of holiday club have been just as fun and rewarding as the first two. For the third week we visited Zweilopili Centre of Excellence. This is not exactly a school but a centre where children can come and learn for free, they can get tutition or do revision. It also caters for those who have dropped out of school for getting pregnant. We first started coming here last August holidays and it continues to be a big favourite amongst volunteers. It has grown from a couple of grass classrooms to 3 grass and 2 mud and straw classrooms, in that year. (Thanks Bookbus volunteers!!) It is the determination of its founder and the dedication of the volunteer staff that makes it such an inspiring place to come.

We began the week with about 100 kids and ended with 200! I don’t think that any of the volunteers want to see another lion masks, spirally snake or crown again for a very long time!! 180 crowns…that must be some kind of record! The chaos was always present but in a “sort of organised” way. Lots of kids would make something in the first session, run home, take off their name tag, leave their creation and run back and try to be selected for the third session by claiming they only just arrived!! It’s amazing the motivation some paper, crayons, scissors, glue and wool can have!!

The older kids read, did maps of Africa, made books about themselves, wrote stories and hung out on the truck, really using it as a library….which is great to see. The children here live in one of the poorest compounds of Livingstone. Most houses have no water or electric and they are crammed together in small narrow streets, so unlike the children from last weeks school in the village there is much more malnourishment and illness evident here. There is a Zambian saying that you never go hungry in the village and it seems to be true. They may not have water or electric either but they have plenty of land for farming or keeping hens and goats. They don’t live in such close proximity so disease doesn’t spread and sanitation seems to be better, probably simply because toilets are further from living and eating areas. So living in town isn’t always beneficial.

Talking to the teachers and children we realised that many of the children had never been to the falls and this despite living only 10km away. We decided to plan an outing for 35 of the children, funded by a volunteer who left a donation and told me to do something “fun and exciting” for some kids. So on Tuesday 35 pupils aged between 7 and 17, 5 teachers and 4 Book bus volunteers set off on a trip to the falls! It all started very Zambian with the bus being 1 hour late for picking us up, but hey ho Zambian Time is what you live by when you live in Zambia and anyway it gave Claire and me time to have our hair done!!!

Firstly we went up river and the children just jumped straight in…I’ve never seen children so happy to be near water. They were laughing and splashing and genuinely having the best time. This is understandable when you think how precisous a commodity water is and they have to pump and carry every drop they use. Some just stripped off to their underwear, others went in fully clothed. There wasn’t a towel to be seen but nobody cared, they just dried off and we walked to see the falls. Some were scared, some impressed, others speechless when they finally saw the Mighty Mosi O Tunya and the walk across the knife edge bridge was certainly memorable for them all! Finally we took a photo of each of them in front of the falls with a huge rainbow and these we will print out and give to them as a souvenir of this fantastic day!

This fourth week of holidays we have been going to Lubasi home. This has been perfect with there being just four of us on board. The atmosphere is calm and relaxed, completely different from the past 3 weeks. The children here are used to Bookbus and always welcome us with open arms and big smiles! They cant wait to see what’s in the red bags. It’s nice to see how the children have grown over the 2 years I have been visiting. There is another home on town, called Lushomo, which is run for sexually abused girls. The 12 girls have been joining us all this week and it’s been really great to get to know them as well, they have become more open as the week has gone on. All the children have their own personalities and characters and they all know what they like to do. Some it’s just reading, others drawing, some like to chat and ask questions and the young girls?… they like anything pink and shiny!! It’s been another great week with the kids at Lubasi!

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Sep 2011

Time for Holiday Club!!

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

Now it’s school holiday time in Zambia we are doing week long holiday clubs and so far the first two weeks have been amazing. The first week we went to a school, called Chilileko (blessing) right on the outskirts of Livingstone that we have been visiting since the beginning of this year. About 120 pupils turned up everyday which was a great turnout and we had lots of fun, its nice for he volunteers to really get to know a group of kids well, which you can’t do when you are doing a different school everyday! All the teachers came everyday too which showed great commitment as the school is very far from where they live. They were joining it with the crown making, cutting paper people chains and chatting to the volunteers! We set up library corners for the children while they were waiting for their lessons and it was great just to watch them absorbed in the books. Paper maiche made its debut at the school, the older kids really enjoyed it but the little ones just wanted to pinch the balloons!! We had the longest lines ever for a game of “over and under”, thought it was never going to end! And on the Friday we got the glitter out!!! Everyone was covered in green sparkles!!

The second week we went to a brand new school about 20 km outside Livingstone, it was right in the middle of some “real” African villages and we had the best week ever. The way I came across the school was quite bizarre. I was stood at the airport about 3 weeks ago waiting for some new volunteers and holding my Bookbus sign and a woman came across to me and asked if I was in charge of the Bookbus here and so I said yes and she told me about this school that she had helped set up and thought that the kids there would love the things we did and if there was any way that we could visit? It sounded exciting so I arranged a trip out the next week. The lady, Oriel, told me to go to her small lodge first as it was easier to find than the school, so myself and our disco taxi driver, Lungu, took a trip out there. We passed a huge herd of sleeping buffalo on the way!

The lodge is right on the Zambezi river and was beautiful and extremely peaceful, it felt a million miles from the bustle of the city but was only 15km. She them took us all in her landrover as she didn’t want to damage the taxi. About 5km of the main Livingstone to Botswana road is an area known as Sindi, which comprises 5 villages with a population of 1055 split among 111 households. (that’s over 9 people per house on average and the houses are tiny!!) This is REAL Africa. Straw and mud houses, one water pump for everyone to share. Dusty tracks and dry elephant grass, an empty market place and several beer halls!! But surprisingly there is a brand new 5 classroom school and a beautiful preschool with a colourful playground. We decided to hold our week holiday club outside the preschool as there was plenty of shade and the ground was sandy. Quite a few inquisitive kids turned up just as we were looking round but who knew what would happen on Monday morning?

When we arrived on the Monday there were about 100 kids all standing still in small groups just starring at us, there didn’t seem to be an adult in sight, although we had been told we would be met by at least one teacher…as we dismounted from the truck we were just starred at even more intently and all the volunteers were asking, what do we do why aren’t they being friendly like all the other kids? It didn’t take long..we put all the mats down and I invited the kids to sit down which they did and we began with Giraffes cant dance and from then on, they were with us!!! One of the teachers took us on a short village tour on the Monday and it was great to see how these children live day to day. We were “escorted” by most of the kids we had just taught. The “market” was 2 tables that sold cabbage, dry fish and peanuts. Everyday the children got more lively and welcoming and they would greet us a km down the road and then run all the way with us, it was so amazing to see the transformation from the Monday morning. We ended up with about 170 kids on the Friday and they all seemed to genuinely love us being there. It’s weeks like that which make this job so rewarding…I still LOVE it!! Bring on the next 2 weeks of holiday club!!

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Aug 2011

Meheba magic

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

The 6 week Meheba UNHCR settlement project is a special Book Bus experience and one that proved to be an unforgetable time for the volunteer crew. The camp is enormous and comprises of many small well kept ‘villages’, far from the perceived image of a refugee camp on newsreels. The people there are a mix of Congalese, Angolans, Rwandans, Burundians, Somalis and Zimbabweans, and we were fortunate to spend time with all these communities, some of them even put on dances for us which we were honoured to experience!

Time flew and everything went remarkably smoothly as we visited different schools every week day, reading with children and interpreting the books with art materials afterwards which was always fun. The kids just don’t get other opportunities to enjoy books like that or be creative using their imagination there, partly because of the large numbers of children per teacher. Many of them have sad personal stories to tell and yet as one of the volunteers, Sophie, said “it’s the happiest place I’ve ever been.” Incredible but true, as every day is something to celebrate in Meheba.

Afternoons were spent planning classes, playing with the kids at School C opposite our camp site, doing yoga taught by me, going for walks, making bracelets! and even teaching extra English classes to adults as they’d requested them. Those classes were initiated by the volunteers which is fantastic.

In the evenings we did several quizes, played games, helped ‘mama Julia’ cook delicious meals, toasted marsh mallows over the fire or went to sit on a nearby hill to star gaze and ponder on the wonders of Meheba.

Camp life there is basic with a long drop latrine and bucket shower but everyone felt comfortable and had the time of their lives. All of us were deeply moved by the people we met and saying goodbye was the hardest part of all. They are so friendly and warm, despite the hardships and sometimes horrors that some of them have experienced. It was a powerful lesson for everyone and one that will stay with us. Some of them fear returning home and others will soon repatriate but whatever happens we wish everyone there bright futures and are grateful to them all for their kindness and hospitality.

We look forward to returning in 2012 and I must encourage anyone who wants a unique experience, a wider perspective on life and increased gratitude to sign up for the ride!

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Jul 2011

84 Fish Headbands

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

Last year during the final few weeks of 2010 we started visiting a small community project called Zwielopili. The, now retired, deputy head of Nakatindi, Mr Mwiya, started the project in 2 small grass rooms for children in his neighbourhood who cant afford to go to school, who don’t have enough time off from household chores to attend full time lessons or who for other reasons are missing out on their education. For example he has tried to encourage girls who have dropped out of education because of getting pregnant to come and have free tuition to try and gain some kind of qualification.

Since we started coming here the centre has grown, in part due to generous donations from Book Bus volunteers. They have built another 2 mud and straw classrooms, refurbished the original ones, including putting in concrete floors, built a toilet and added a roundabout and see-saw for the small kids who flock to the place daily in ever increasing numbers!

The children run behind the bus as we approach the compound where the school is located. They shout things such as muzungu, bye bye, or Kerry Kerry (how my name is pronounced here!) They try to beat us to school and often succeed. Sometimes we joke that the truck is like the pied piper of Livingstone, leading the kids to books, paper, crayons and glitter!

One of the teachers at Zweilopili, Claudia, is always happy to see us. She loves to join in the activities that we do and she is really great with the kids. She wishes that one day she could become a trainer pre school teacher, it is her biggest dream, but finding the funds will prove to be a tough task. So for now she volunteers her time and waits for the day her dream may come true. At only 23 her life has been very hard, she was orphaned at an early age and having some physical disabilities she has had to fight to be accepted. Discrimination against anyone, who is in anyway different, is rife in Zambia.

So when we discovered that it was going to be Claudia’s 23rd birthday we decided to surprise her with a small party in the park. We made a basic picnic including rainbow jelly, a birthday cake and a game of pass the parcel with forfeits! We had a great afternoon, featuring musical bumps (which resulted in a pair of broken sunglasses but as the owner said “there’s always casualties in musical bumps!!”), consequences, which was hilarious, and lots of laughter at the forfeits. At the end Claudia announced that it had been the happiest day of her life and that she had never celebrated her birthday before. When she was a kid it was just another day. When everyday living is so tight there is no space for special treats. I think her speech brought home to me and the volunteers how lucky we are back home to take things like birthday treats and kids parties for granted, for a big percentage of the world every day is just about survival. For the finale the birthday girl got covered in glitter – a fitting Book Bus ending!!

Another school from last year is Maanu Mbwami. We continue to visit here on a Thursday and teach ALL the grades. It is certainly the weekly day of chaos. We drive past this school on the way to Chileleko (our new Tuesday school) and the first time there was mad confusion when they saw us coming and we didn’t stop. The look on the kids faces turned from joy to puzzlement but all was good when we arrived on Thursday and explained. Now every Tuesday we get lots of cheers and waves but no cries of “stop, stop”!

The first session is “team Chaos – the return” We teach both grades 1 and 2 together and every week the numbers are huge. They started off small and lulled us into a false sense of calm! See for yourselves – in the last 5 weeks we have made
35 snakes
60 lion masks
84 fish headbands (with streamers – no less)
76 weather charts (on paper plates)
76 flying pigs
The jump from 35 to 60 was interesting but then 84 was unbelievable! It looked amazing to see 84 kids all running around with the fish headbands on, especially when grade 2 went back into class to do maths and kept the trendy headgear on!

The difference between the confidence and creativity in the kids that are used to Book Bus sessions and those that are experiencing for the first time is huge and it inspires me that the Book Bus project is really doing some good and measurable things in the community schools around Livingstone.

The volunteers that we have had so far this season have embraced the project whole heartedly and therefore are getting the most out of the experience. As well as seeing the “polished” side of Zambia that any “normal” tourist does, they see everyday life of real Zambians. They walk in the markets, teach in the schools and drive through the villages interacting with a multitude of Zambians, chatting to the teachers, the older pupils, the stall holders to find out first hand what life is really like here in Livingstone during their stint on the Bookbus!

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Jul 2011

Just another day shopping in Zambia!

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

For the next few blogs I’m not going to write about schools or the Book Bus but about some of my impressions of everyday life in Zambia! I have been living and working in Zambia for over 2 years now and whenever new volunteers come I get reminded that things that seem to be commonplace and normal to me now can be out of the ordinary and fascinating when you experience them for the first time.

I always make sure that we make trips to the local markets. They are vibrant and bustling, full of unusual sounds, smells and sights! You can buy absolutely anything in these markets. Whether it be fresh vegetables, used clothes, a live chicken, plumbing parts, orange squash, wool or dried fish you are looking for you are sure to find it! The “food court” is the place that launches the biggest assault on your senses. Piles of dried fish covered in flies, meat hanging up in the open air, dried caterpillars or flying ants, bright red tomatoes, shiny green peppers, huge bags of charcoal, deep fried doughnuts or sweet potatoes sold in old newspaper; everywhere people are selling their wares. Mostly it’s the women, in their brightly coloured “chitenge” fabric, usually with a baby strapped to their back and a couple of toddlers playing by their feet, who do the selling. They call to potential customers, to their friends, neighbours and children. The market is always alive whichever day you venture in. The narrow alleys, the constant noise and jostling is normal to me now and I feel quite at home wandering around and being the only m’zungu but I love to see the wide eyed wonder of people who have never been to such a place, there is so much to take in it’s no wonder many volunteers keep popping back, especially to buy more fabric!

The carpenters on the roadside who make you furniture within a day, the men hammering old metal to make braziers or cooking pots, the women pounding stone into gravel at the quarry they are all trying to make a living. There is no social security or safety net here. If you don’t make any money that day then your family will go hungry. Many houses that we pass on the way to school have small stalls outside their homes where they will sell vegetables or bread or talk time to make a little extra money. This is a cash society and the most used notes are the 500 and 1000 kwacha notes, worth 7.5p and 15p respectively. The government has introduced “plastic” notes that are waterproof and un-tearable to try and prolong the lifespan.

Another question that I often get asked is what is in all the small plastic bags that many stalls are selling. This can be anything from salt, sugar, flour or cooking oil to washing powder or “Mealie Meal”, which is the ground maize flour used to make the staple Zambian N’shima. The stall holders buy a “big” bag or container of the said product and then they divided it into small and sometimes tiny portions to sell to the many Zambians who could never afford to buy a whole KG of sugar or a bottle of cooking oil. Most people that you meet are living day to day, they will buy whatever they can afford with the money they made that day selling bananas, doughnuts or vegetables. You can buy single cigarettes, mobile top-up for less than 7pence or a pile of 5 pieces of charcoal. The people doing this “small” business are, in the end, probably making a few pounds on the price of the original product they bought. Then when they are sold out they will buy another one and so the micro economy keeps turning.

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