So what exactly did I do today? Oh you know the usual, just chilling in the jungle working on my Jesus beard…..
In truth, today was one of those days so fantastical that if I didn't have the photos to prove it, I would scarcely believe it myself. So bear with me as I try to do the today's events justice because this should be a good read. Perhaps a little notice though, this one is not a holiday blog so if you are feeling a little tender maybe leave it for another day…
It was always going to be the case that once I arrived at camp there would be things I wished I had brought, the latest thought, that it would have been so easy to grab a few bags of lollies in Dar Es Salam for the kids at the Ikubulu School, but the chance has passed. So I got to thinking how do I get the spirits up and give the kids a treat and energy boost before a big day in the garden? Well after realising that Laurie is a master of coal oven baking and a brief conflict of conscience, I decided we can justify using a little extra flour and a few jars of honey this week. So Laurie worked away yesterday getting some loaves of bread together and I spent the evening cutting them into cubes. With water, trowels, first aid and some apples packed, I tried to utilise the space left in my pack by stuffing in as many of the croc-style foam shoes, set aside for the kids here, as I could. Last week I had tied bundles to either end of a small length of rope and slung it around my shoulders but I decided my pack and the sack of bread would be enough to jostle with this time. Content that we were as prepared as we could be, we called it a night early hoping to wake to a clear morning.
Well the powers that be did not disappoint and I could not have asked for I better morning. There was not a cloud in the sky but as I crossed from the shower to the mess for breakfast, the shrill scream "Danny come", gave me an inkling that our trip may yet be postponed. As I got closer to the commotion, I saw the outline of the source, winding its way from Tunza's food bowl to the raised decking of the managers mess. A snake you say? My friends this was not just any snake, the said creature was a Black Mamba, notorious for its speed, aggressive nature and long list of human casualties in Africa. (Ok, so it was only about a metre when they get to three, but that just robs the story doesn't it…) Anyway, it wasn't long before Mr Mlafu arrived with (to put it poetically) a big steel pole and sparing you the details, the snake is no longer a threat. It was only a matter of time really, though the guys had assured me they've never seen snakes, there was a skin on the airstrip when I arrived and we found a perfectly cleaned skeleton on a path outside camp earlier this week. I had crossed the path the week earlier so the insects had worked quickly to clean the bones.
Anyway, enough on that part of the day. We geared up, left the security of camp and after two hours of pretty eventless hiking, it was time for the next adventure of the day, the river crossing. As the canoe and ferryman came into view, I had to be impressed with the guy's skills. Standing at the end of the five metre canoe carved from a single piece of wood, he furiously paddled against the current, the edge of the boat coming just centimetres from the surface of the water. We loaded our gear into a plastic garbage bag just in case and as I waited with a local family, Laurie and Sheeja crossed with the gear. I was in hysterics at Laurie's obvious nerves and the local family were, in turn, in hysterics at my laughing. Well, I ate humble pie when it came to my turn and I felt what she had been feeling five minutes earlier. With no sense of control and level with the fast flowing water I gripped the sides of the canoe hard and gritted my teeth as we made the crossing, Laurie content at her own chance to laugh. Across the river safely we pushed our way through another thicket of long grass before the path widened to a more populous stretch of the hike.
*Serious paragraphs alert*
Though many aspects of my time here have been confrontational they don't generally warrant a mention but I was reminded again of the reality of this place, when on the next portion of the hike, we passed a hut where a little girl had just died and preparations were being made for the funeral. I'm not sure what had happened but the situation was compounded by the fact that her sister had also recently passed. On the whole, given the environment and nutritional limitations of food available, most of the kids here are doing well and I'm often stunned at the big smiles offered up. However there are only so many kids one or two people can care for and as with any population in poverty, some struggle more than others, perhaps exacerbating the consequences of limited means. As I think about this, I'm struck with the image of two girls that couldn't have been more than four or five, last time I was at Ikubulu. Smiling at their younger brother, I realised the girls, with worried looks, were pulling at his shirt trying to cover his swollen belly, as if it were their fault or they were likely to get in trouble for it. So thinking about it, the bread was a better option than the lollies would have been, it was just as big a treat and many of the kids had never tried it.
At this stage I had also been wondering about one of the guys who had not made it to camp for the last few weeks. The last we suspected was that he was ill with malaria but at finding him in attendance at the funeral, it became apparent as he slowly made his way from the group, that the malaria medication he had taken, had had no effect. The poor guy rather, had been struck with measles and with his arms scattered with healing scars he was now a very different picture to the happy man I remember bouncing around with Tunza the day I arrived from the charter. He quickly apologised for his absence, which in the context of the situation, I wanted to hear about as a much as nails on a chalk board but he said what he needed to and understanding very little, I watched him re-join the procession and I returned to ours.
Ok take a breath, lighten up and rest assured I am not being swallowed into a pit of depression. All in all the day was fantastic and rewarding as you'll see from the rest of this update but I thought I'd keep these blogs as true to the experience as possible, if for nothing else, than for myself, when I'm old and grey. Well, did I say it was a fine day weatherwise? Hmm after three hours hiking it felt stinking hot, the sun amplified by the moisture evaporating from the red mud of the track. Heading into the last kilometre of the trek we were faced with a steep incline of washed out uneven surfaces and no canopy cover. So the ten metres of overhanging Mibango trees nearing the village were much appreciated and we all slowed down a bit there before continuing through the village centre to the school.
Now at this point in time I am running out of writing steam but just check out the photos. At the school, things went according to plan to a tee. I spent the day with the year five, six and seven students, first stepping back into the classroom (with chalk rather than power points over here) to explain the new student food garden project. With Laurie translating and some furious drawing we covered composting, and the crops we would grow before heading out to the site. The kids had been told about the event beforehand and had all remembered to bring their farming tools from home. We dug and planted out three plots with plans for another three to six and composting bays. There was enough bread for every student at the school to have two pieces with honey, the leftovers dished out at a pop quiz at an assembly and it was like a Disney meets Africa matching the shoes I'd squeezed into my bag to the students lucky enough to have the right size feet .
True to the wet season we were absolutely hammered with rain on the hike back to camp, we were exhausted but it didn't matter, it wasn't cold and the day had been a bloody successful, succession of success! Did I mention things went to plan?