Zambia

Having been in the unusual but fortunate position to spend my first few weeks in Zambia completely alone, it gave me the advantage to appreciate where I’ve been staying on a more close-up level.

The village of Mwandi, I can’t emphasise enough, is absolutely wonderful. Though struck with poverty, HIV, Malaria complications and lacking in opportunity, I have never known anywhere to be so friendly, at peace and equal minded. Whether you were male or female, black or white, you were always addressed as an equal, which is still something we don’t see in many parts of the West. No one is condescended to- if elderly can work, they will work. If children can cook, they will cook. It’s a different world because of a degree of desperation there- the elderly need to work, the children have to cook. But, it’s one that has given way to so much positivity, that it’s impossible not to be in admiration.

The Homes for AIDs Orphans charity, for whom I’ve been working the last few weeks, is a fascinating project. It’s a totally grass-roots-started-out-with-nothing charity, and has grown and become more successful through small donations and gaining the trust of the locals- particularly the Village Chief who has granted them land from which to work, and publically commended their work. It does not end at building houses, but also now expands into childcare, support in the hospitals, and helping at the Elderly Care Home. They reach so many lives here in spite of being such a small team with so few resources. Even at camp, the living is basic but still very enjoyable. If you would be interested in working with them, and I very much recommend you do if only for a short while, then please visit their website on www.homes4aidsorphans.com

Homosexuality is a crime in Zambia, and after careful thought I made the decision long before I’d even arrived to stay in the closet for this experience. In spite of being an advocate for gay rights and equality, I needed to accept that this is a culture far from my own and my mission here is to help and learn about them, so that’s exactly what I did. However, I must say, there are times when it was difficult. I first came out when I was 17 and since then have treated my sexuality exactly as though it were any other- with comfort and acceptance. By this I mean, in simple chit-chat when someone might talk about their ex-girlfriend or ideal husband or what have you, I will join the conversation with the same contribution. This obviously was not something I could do in Mwandi, and I quickly started to feel antisocial. Conversations with me would effectively consist of me asking question after question after question about them, without contributing anything of my own. Eventually, the conversation would fall flat and I would strive to change the subject to something else. It felt somewhat frustrating! My agenda is not to push my political views, but simply to have conversations without feeling a need to be secretive and even something as simple as this was out of my grasp! Returning to a world of secrecy I haven’t known since I was a teenager reminded me of how lucky I am to live in a country that supports my right not only to marry, have children, work, but also the basic right to live a free and simple life where talking alone doesn’t feel like a risk! I loved Zambia, and I would go back but… This is the only thing that I would change about it, and it’s a very big thing.

This amount of time alone and this jarring appreciation of my rights back in the UK also gave me some time to consider important changes I would still like to see happen. On paper, our equality is golden, but socially there are still some changes I’d like to see, namely this tiring use of the word “gay” to describe something you consider in some way to be inferior. This isn’t, as people so frequently mistake, a ‘Straight People Vs. Gay People’ thing, as plenty of either seem to say it through either innocence or ignorance, or maybe an attempt to fit in or not rock the boat… Whatever the reason, it’s sending the message that it’s ok. Some come forward with the idea that language is ever evolving “you know, the word ‘gay’ actually used to mean ‘happy’”, but everyone recognises that this isn’t an evolution, this is using a word knowing it’s meaning in an effort to be comical or lighten the mood when you’re showing dislike. It’s not ok, and it is damaging. Someday, I hope to have children and when I do I don’t want their friends or themselves to have confused the meaning of this word. I remember, many years ago, I was helping at an after school club and a six-year-old girl pointed at a picture in a book and said “that’s gay!”
“What does gay mean?” another child asked her. “It means bad”, she explained. It’s not her fault for thinking that, she’s at an age where she’s learning the meaning of a word from the context in which she hears it being used. I’m proud and excited by the steps in equality this country and many others have taken in the last decade, but I’m concerned by the idea that children might learn the meaning of the word ‘gay’ to be ‘bad’. It might just send us backwards if my child’s friends confuse his or her Mum’s to be ‘bad’. I hope other adults, parents and future parents start to be more considerate to this soon, but just in case here’s a little chart that can help:

That’s a bit gay = That’s a bit lame

Ah, gay! = Ah, gross!

I don’t mean to sound gay, but… = I don’t mean to sound soft, but…

And so on…

It was also addressed to me by another UK volunteer at one point (and, again, let’s remember I was not out at this time) that it’s cruel for Gays to have children. Not because they believe there should be a male or a female, they explained, they believe children grow up healthily in a conventional or unconventional family so long as there is love. But because of bullies. “My kids would for sure bully the kids of gays, because that’s exactly what I would do”, he explained matter-of-factly. So, socially, it’s not just the “that’s so gay” lark that still needs to be fixed, but a general feeling and teaching of superiority that still comes from some communities here. Once you recognise another as your equal, then neither of you need to fear judgement. And isn’t that a nice idea?

As for the nearby town of Livingstone, this is an interesting place. Another you recognise as a place of poverty, but so much more developed than Mwandi it’s hard to believe they’re only two hours drive apart! Plenty of restaurants, shops, bakeries, and even a few ATMs! It’s worth a visit, though I must admit I think I’d be bored of it after a weekend. But the Victoria Falls are a must see! They took my breath away! They’re just… EXTRAORDINARY! And for everyone, locals and otherwise, to tell me the awe is more so from the Zimbabwe side… Well, needless to say, Zimbabwe has shot straight to the top of my list.

But, to conclude with the point I opened with, I truly loved Mwandi. I made some very special friends there, and felt so safe and welcomed into that community. I hope to have the pleasure of visiting and working alongside Paula, Dan and Matt again one day. And you should too!

Tying Rope and Eating Dough

Wednesday 27 May

Those bloody roosters don’t have a clue! Joined the dogs in a shouting match from about 1:00am! Good thing I went to bed so early, or I’d be exhausted!

Funny thing though, since I’ve started taking these Malarone Malaria prevention tablets, I’ve got an incurable hunger and all I want to do is sleep! Thank goodness I’m here volunteering in manual labour… This should prevent me from becoming the size of a cow.

Today was my first day house building, working alongside two local guys who work for the charity; Gabbi and Martin. It’s hard work, but has taught me so much already! Skills I hope to use again, perhaps to build a tree house or something for my kids some day.

The main structure of the house was already there when I arrived, I assume part of the work of volunteers who were here before me, so the job today was to securely tie branches to the outside and inside, creating walls that will later be filled with mud clay for setting. Mission very much accomplished, and I have the blisters to show for it!

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Off to Mwandi

Tuesday 26 May

Well, day one has felt much like an African adventure already!

Paula collected me from the Jolly Boy’s hostel about 12:30 and we got on the road to Mwandi Village, about a 2 hour drive away. En route, Paula told me a little more about the charity Homes for AIDs Orphans, which was founded by herself and her husband Dan (who was actually born and raised in Mwandi himself) in 2005, with very meagre beginnings! While they started off sharing land with Christian Missionary groups, in 2007 the Village Chief gave them their own land from which the charity could work. Then, with Paula being part of Rotary International, Rotarian volunteers got involved, who by 2009 had set up running water and by 2010 installed electricity. Although they’re still a small charity and with basic living, it’s very impressive to me that they’ve already come so far with so little.

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The Flight to Zambia

Monday 25 May 2015

Having had a tremendously exhausting weekend and only 4 hours sleep, this has to be the sleepiest I have ever been at the start of travelling. I don’t even remember checking in!

I do remember Gary, the lovely helpful taxi driver, walking into the airport with me without prompt and showing me exactly where I needed to go for what, and even recommending I go upstairs to the Whimpey’s for breakfast before going through security where I can watch the planes on the runway from the window. A fine idea, which I absolutely went along with!

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I treated myself to a little Cappuccino Muffin and a Chocolate Milk here, only to have the common sense click that the airport had only just opened when I arrived, and my flight would be the first to leave. Therefore, there was nothing of interest happening on the runway at this time.

Once crossing through security, I immediately regretted my decision to go to Whimpey’s for seeing a Mugg and Bean café here in departures! Oh, Mugg and Bean! This might just be my last time to have you, and I’ve wasted it!

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Cappucino, and Super-Healthy-But-Probably-Not-Really Cake

Cappucino CakeStrawberry Cake

Over the last couple of months, I have had the absolute pleasure each Monday and Friday of volunteering at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, assisting them to organise one of their biggest events of the year; The Annual Reunion. I had such a wonderful time while I was there, and my last day came around alarmingly fast. I just had to show them a token of my appreciation, and what better way to do this than with cake!

Baking is far from being my strong point and most people are striving to be healthy in July and August, so I was up against a challenge. Finally, I came up with a couple of simple recipes that they couldn’t resist!

Super-Healthy-But-Probably-Not-Really Cake

One of your 5-a-day! Possibly. Maybe. Citation needed.

Ingredients
125g of self-raising flour
125g of caster sugar
125g of unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 punnet of strawberries

Get cakin’

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees

2. In a bowl, cream together the caster sugar and butter

3. Once smooth, beat in the two eggs

4. Sift and stir in the flour. Stir until lumpless and divine

5. Top the strawberries (cut their heads off) then destroy them in a food processor

6. Gently fold your strawberry goop into your cake mix

7. Grease your cake tin AND line the bottom with grease proof paper. This mix causes a lot of sticky when cooked!

8. Pour the cake mix into the tin and pop in the oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, though it may need longer due to all the moisture, so be sure to check!

9. Remove from oven and allow to cool

Icing
As I was icing two cakes, and as I’m a fiend for Buttercream Icing, I made a particularly large amount. You may find you don’t need so much!

Ingredients
250g of unsalted butter
500g of icing sugar
1 vanilla pod

Ice ice baby…

1. In a big bowl, cream up your butter

2. Sift in your icing sugar about 1/5 at a time, and stir it in ensuring you tackle any lumps!

3. Split your vanilla pod with a knife, then with a teaspoon remove all the little black seeds and add them to your mix. Josie then popped the empty pod into a bottle of Vodka, you may wish to do the same!

4. Stir in your vanilla seeds, then gloop this mixture all over your cake. To decorate, I lined the top edge with dried strawberries. Enjoy!

Cappuccino Cake

The cappuccino cake is even easier! Use the same ingredients as above, minus the strawberries. Measure out 40g of instant coffee (alter depending on your preference of strength) and blitz it up into a powder! Then, BEFORE you add the flour, add your coffee powder to the mix, stir it in and continue as normal. It needs slightly less time in the oven too- bake for about 20 minutes. Then just slather with your vanilla buttercream icing, dust with chocolate (just like a real cappuccino!) and enjoy. Who could resist that on a cloudy Monday?