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Blog: The Lake of Stars.


Nov 2010

The Lake of Stars.

Posted by / in The Book Bus /

Week 2. PART B.

Wednesday saw us at another huge school, Koche Primary School also has over 2000 learners. We were getting used to seeing huge classes learning under the baobab trees and this school was no exception. I talked to one standard 4 teacher and he told me that he never taught in a classroom, always under a tree, when the sun was too high and the shade from the leafless tree wasn’t enough for the 100 pupils he had to send them home. If it rains there is also no class. The setting of this school was right against a rocky outcrop and there was no vegetation or shade except the few baobabs so it gave the impression of teaching in the desert. It was very hard to believe that the lake was only a few kilometres away as it felt very baron.

We were warmly welcomed by the teachers and pupils and we were joined by the area PEA (primary education advisor) who was very keen to see exactly what we did and to get involved herself. This involvement is not something I am used to in Zambia and it made a refreshing change to find someone in authority being so hands on. The school also showed us it’s “Library”, a very dusty room filled with junk and a few shelves of donated books that obviously hadn’t been touched in a while, the dust and cobwebs on them, proved that. 2 small girls were washing the floor under the eye of the “librarian” as we entered. Most schools seem to have a room they call the library but it is almost always the same story, these rooms are under lock and key and the students have no access to whatever books there may be inside. I do not believe that this is done for bad reasons; I think that it is simply the fact that there is no library culture here and as the librarian at Koche School said, they have no training in how to go about operating such a project.

The lessons went well despite it being the hottest day we have encountered so far with the thermometer reaching 38 degrees. The PEA was very impressed with the way that the project runs, especially the emphasis on small group work, something that is nigh on impossible in Malawian schools. She was especially encouraged by our use of non fiction books which we often link to globes and world maps. The sad reality was that hardly any students, even those in standard 7 and 8 could show us where Malawi was on the map, but they ALL love looking at the world and hearing about other countries, people and places.

Wednesday afternoon saw us making a trip to Mangochi. The market was a vibrant bustling centre where you could buy almost anything you could imagine. The fruit and vegetable section was, as always, a riot of colour and full of all the produce that can be harvested at that time of year. After visiting town we stopped at Open Arms orphanage to pay a visit. This orphanage is specifically for babies and children up to 2 years. We all immediately fell in love with the residents and everyone had at least 2 children in their arms or hanging onto their knees! The idea is to care for the babies until they are about 2 when then can be returned to their extended families, usually grandparents or sometimes older siblings or aunts and uncles. Other family members taking care of orphans is common practice throughout Africa. We were welcomed to the home by the matron and all the carers singing to us and it brought a few tears to the eyes having to leave.

On Thursday we went to Ulande primary school, only 1000 learners so positively tiny after the last few days! The setting was amazing. You could see the lake from the school and it seemed to be set right in the middle of the village, so everyday life was going on all around during lessons. We actually bought 2 “bunches” of fish off a man on a bike(the fish were hanging on the handbars!!) who had just caught them in the lake. We also bought lots of fresh vegetables and ate them that night with typical Malawian ‘nshima’, this pleased Douglas, our Malawian driver, no end, after all that m’zungu food!
We taught standards 7 and 8 at Ulande in small groups under the mango trees but what we were doing was so exciting, all the smaller children were crowding around, so out came Giraffes can’t dance and I read to my biggest audience yet, probably about 300!! I lengthened it by getting them to name all the animals and do animal impressions!! They sang me some songs afterwards and then we played some games! The diversionary tactics worked and the others finished their sessions in peace!

Friday was a public holiday so no school but we took the opportunity to tidy the bus and get some things ready for our inclusion in the outreach project of Lake of Stars on Saturday. Friday also saw the start of the festival! The campsite wasn’t as crowded as expected and miraculously the new showers and toilets were ready on time! The festival was taking place on 3 stages, all dotted along the beach. They each catered for different types of music. The programme was only published that morning so there was much discussion about who wanted to see what! Once it got dark the whole place was looking great. There was a 24 hour bar, lots of food and craft stalls, both inside the festival (tourist prices) and outside the gates (local prices!) I tried goat for the first time and there were EXCELLENT home made chips(Zambia doesn’t do chips!!)!

This is a festival without mud, without rain, without disgusting toilets or stupid queues for the bar but it still has all those attributes that make a festival fun. Dancing on the beach with the lake behind and the stars above, I could see how it got its name! For me the highlights of this first night were the legendary Zimbabwean Oliver Mutukudzi and a new British guy called Tinashe, whose acoustic guitar was only accompanied by a guy on a beat box, amazing!

Saturday was the Bookbus’ turn to do something for the festival. In previously years the festival has been criticised for doing things exclusively for people who can afford to buy the tickets (well out of the price range of any normal Malawian.) So this year they were running an outreach programme for the villagers who live near to the festival site. Details were sketchy and plans very vague but basically we were supposed to be going to a local football pitch with the truck and doing our thing!! Unfortunately our driver Douglas had to rush off so we were left without a driver, this meant I spent the morning trying to find someone to drive the truck, finally I did and they were supposed to arrive at 2.30! 3pm he arrived accompanied by a rake?? (we still don’t know why and today it still sits in the truck!!) We then didn’t know how to start the engine…eventually after pressing everything we managed, and then the door wouldn’t shut, but we tied it together with wool!!!! (T.I.A!!!) So we arrived and the afternoon went so well. We had the Noisettes and Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly on board the bus reading with kids. We had dozens of kids on board, enjoying rading, being read to or just browsing themselves. We made a huge lake collage, where every child (or adult!) could write their name on a star and then stick it on! We sang songs, both Bookbus ones and Malawian ones, we danced, we played football and we read. The children had a great time and despite its shaky start it was a great success! As the sun set we did one rendition of the banana song and then it was time to wait for the driver..again!!!

Saturday night and Sunday were free for people to enjoy the festival. There was always a very chilled out atmosphere whatever was going on. It was strange seeing the Noisettes perform on stage after having had them on board the bus that afternoon. But their impromptu Sunday night acoustic set with a local school choir was much cooler than their big headline Saturday night performance, in my opinion. There were some great musicians from Malawi and even Zambia and there was music to suit every taste. My personal favourite was on Sunday afternoon and it was an acoustic set by t

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