Zambia with the Book Bus
By Rosemary Stutchbury
Just occasionally I like to go adventuring on my own without a bike and thought this account might interest our regular readers.
The Book Bus is a charity originally set up in Zambia to work with local schools and spread enthusiasm for reading and stories. See www.thebookbus.orgOne full time organiser Kelly stays in Livingstone, while the rest of the crew are volunteers.
Some what anxious about my ability to cope with children and the camping, I arrived on May 1st. I had met up with the others in Johannesburg waiting for the connection.We were all pleased to see Kelly plus taxis, waiting to take us to Grubby's Grotto, our residence for the next 2 weeks. I was relieved to find that the Grubby bit was not about the dirt, but the name of the owner an ex pat New Zealander.How exactly he got the name seemed rather lost in his amazing stories, most of which seemed wildly improbable. He arrived in Livingstone 17 years ago to set up one of the first bungee jump and white water rafting outfit on the Zambezi. Later he sold out and bought this large house and grounds (originally the Governors house when Zambia was still Northern Rhodesia) and set up a camp site mainly for touring safari trucks but also used by the Book Bus team, last year and this.,
Kelly took us for an orientating walk into the town and to sample local pizzas for dinner, as we were all a bit tired to cook. Livingstone was the capital of British Northern Rhodesia, until the capital moved to Lusaka and still retains some of the grandiose buildings of the colonialist era including a cinema 1942, a museum and bank buildings. The main road has been resurfaced and lit and more modern buildings built to accommodate the tourists who come to see the Victoria Falls but beyond this, the houses and markets are those of a typical African town.
May 2nd Sunday we got down to planning which in typical African fashion had changed somewhat:
The schools were closed on holiday, until next week
The Bus could not navigate the roads, which were all pot holed after the Rains.
We would go to Lubasi orphanage but some of the children would be awaystaying with relatives.
However, in true South African and Zambian style we made a plan and got on with it.
In the afternoon we went to see the Falls, which after the heaviest rain since 1958 are at their most spectacular and we got soaked. Needless to say the white water rafting is not running at the moment, with thousands of gallons of water roaring over the falls and down the gorge every minute.
May 3rd Monday We set off for the orphanage in two taxis one called Tabitha and the other with Peace and Love on the back. The roads were horrendous, no wonder the bus can't make it but we drove through the market and across the railway line to the Lubasi orphanage. We were greeted by the staff and children effusively and given a guided tour. children were busy with their chores sweeping, washing and gardening, but once these were done we had about 30 children to read to and entertain for the morning. Beryl and I had 8 youngsters who were 7 years and under and I think we struggled a bit, that first morning not quite knowing their grasp of English (not great) and what they would like in the way of stories. Later we had a reading session with two older girls Mary and Purity both in grade 9 at school. And they proved excellent readers and were happy to chat as well. Returning to the Grotto we had a swim, prepared our activities for tomorrow and played some card games with the latest safari bus passengers. None of us had had the sense to pack a pack of cards!!
We continued all the week to visit the orphanage which was great, as we got to know the children, several of whom have sad backgrounds and little or no contact with family or friends. Beryl and I discovered that stories and games need to start the session; the minute paper, pens and glue come out, the children are frantic and excited .These pleasures are not common in Zambian schools, let alone at the orphanage. We didn't even try glitter which is apparently chaos!!
On Wednesday we went to a Zambian dance show at the Zambesi Sun resort down towards the river. It was very entertaining and all of us were enthralled by the dancing and dancers. So much so that we booked for a dance workshop the next day to learn some moves for ourselves. This proved extremely amusing, although I don't think my hips can move in the way our instructors wanted them to.
Friday we went out for a Zambian meal at a local restaurant and ate shima (cornmeal porridge) which is the Zambian staple diet. It is eaten with the right hand and then used to sop up the stew or whatever relishes are served with it. Later we went next door to a bar.We had a hilarious time with a crooner who sang old Cliff Richard hits, serenaded the plants and then managed to persuade Beryl to get up on the dance floor with him.
May 8th Saturday Beryl, Lynn, Phil and myself set off at 6.15 a.m. for out trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana. The ferry across the river looked as if it had come from the film of the African Queen, and judging by the huge line of trucks waiting to cross on both sides, they have an Operation Stack problem like ours. Safely on the other side we were collected by the Safari company and dined in style at the Zambezi Safari Lodge. We enjoyed a cruise down the river, spotting hippos, birds and crocodiles and then a long game drive into the Park proper. Every moment, we sawherds of elephants, giraffes, impala and buffalo as well as numerous birds. When we finally reached our camp we found the tents pitched, our beds ready and hot water for washing. We chickened out on the camp showers though, which looked very cold, being just a suspended container on a rope. We enjoyed a delicious meal cooked on the fire and a chat round the camp fire, listening to the sounds of the night. Once in bed the sound seemed to become louder and then the lions started to roar. Finding the bathroom seemed a perilous excursion, involving shining a torch all round to look for animal eyes, before tripping across to the toilet tent. Next morning we were all present and failed to see the nocturnal roarers, only seeing their footprints on the track a little way down the road.
Another game drive through the park with lots more animals but not the lion or leopard we were all secretly hoping to see. Then the trip back to Livingstone arriving rather tired, just in time to think about Monday's chores.
Great excitement the new truck had arrived, so we spent the day transferring the craft materials and books into the new Book Bus/Truck. At last we could go to the schools with all the material on board, whatever the condition of the roads
May 11th Tuesday Our first school visit to Linda's Community School. These schools are run by local volunteers for the children, whose parents cannot afford to send their children to the Government schools. Education up to grade 7 is free in Zambia but children have to have a uniform, shoes, a school bag and paper and pencils and this is beyond many families, hence the Community Schools.They often provide food as well in association with the World Food Organisation. Linda school has about 230 pupils and we worked with four grades dividing them up between us. Some of the children could read well and were enthusiastic about the books and stories, and all of them loved the craft whether it was just drawing or making masks.
We sat on mats outside in the shade and after 4 hours were quite exhausted. We then hurried back to go to the Royal Livingstone Hotel for Afternoon tea and cocktails down by the river. This proved a very popular outing, the cakes were amazing. The pseudo colonial atmosphere was a bit heavy going, but it was nice to be civilised for a few hours.
Wednesday May 12th Another day at Linda school and then a quiet afternoon with a swim and an early night. No Safari trucks tonight so much less noise and the camp site to ourselves.
Thursday May 13th A new school, rather a long slow ride on the truck, through a large suburban area of Livingstone. The local children thought the circus was coming and followed us, shouting Good Morning and M'zungo which means white people. Arriving at the school, more excitement and we did our stint with the children in one of the classrooms, which was more comfortable than outside as there was very little shade. Some of the children here read very well and were determined to practise they didn't want to do craft, but read more books.
In the afternoon we went ona sunset cruise, the one evening when it was cloudy, but there was as much drink and food as you could manage, so most of the party were quite satisfied. We then went on for more cocktails at a bar in the town.The younger members of the party plus Phil finished the night at the Crooner's bar we visited before. They all came back late, and had a bit of trouble focusing on the children the next morning.
Friday May 14th This morning we visited a preschool community project and had a hectic morning playing games and singing songs. In the afternoon we returned to the orphanage. This proved a little disappointing as most of the children were about to depart for a football match or were still at school. We entertaining about 10 children for a short while and then returned to camp. As Kelly says you never know what will happen, the only way is to make a plan!!
My last evening, we all went down to the Jolly Boys Hostel Bar for a drink to say goodbye. I am the only one leaving as everyone else is staying 3 or 4 weeks, so it was bit sad. The team has been great fun and I shall miss them, the Zambian sunshine and most of all the smiling faces as the Bus/truck pulls into the schoolyard.