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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Silly O’clock

Beep, beep, beeeeeep went the alarm clock at 4.25 in the morning for the second time in the last ten days. I wrestled with my mosquito net in a wretched still-asleep state, cursing my own resourcefulness and foresight to put the phone on the table at the other side of my bedroom just five hours before. By the time I disentangled myself from the bed I was awake and by the time I reached the phone, I almost didn't mind the ungodly hour. I therefore decided to forgo the sneaky extra five minutes in bed and just make a start on breakfast. A caffeine free breakfast at that!

Two hours later I'm bouncing along sitting atop a petrol generator with my neck bent at sixty degrees because the roof was too low to be able to sit up straight. We have just started a two-hour journey to the site of a new Taonga school in a place called Kalisowe. Kalisowe isn't even within the Chikuni parish strictly speaking but over the years many initiatives have been done with the community. The latest is this Italian designed school, for grade one to seven (primary school) pupils. We are going because today is the official opening of the school. The Minister for Education, the Bishop of Monze and the second in command at the Italian NGO that paid for the construction are all attending. I'm in the entertainment car that is leaving two hours before everyone else in order to set everything up. Two 300W speakers, stands, clothes and drums cling precariously to the roof of the 4x4; 13 people, the aforementioned petrol generated and a jerry can are stuffed inside like sardines (and we had to leave another 4 people behind!). I couldn't help but remember London underground at rush hour as we bumped, sloshed and skidded along the 'road'. I also thought of the images of those Indian trains with all the people on top; after 20 minutes of looking at the world at an angle, I was beginning to wonder if it wasn't such a bad idea. The people are mostly Mukunzubo people as they are one of the three official entertainments lined up for the day. Normally this means Mukunzubo girls but sadly due to term time and the opening being on a Monday, it's almost exclusively Mukunzubo women, drat!

Zambia is not at all like I was hoping in regards to wildlife. Today we REALLY went into the back of beyonds. Yet I didn't see any big animals, no gazelle, no elephant, no buffalo, no giraffe, nothing, nada, zip. Apparently it's all in Kenya. Bugger! One of the people in the car had been out to Kalisowe the previous week and apparently found a two-meter-plus snake across the road along the way. I duly kept my eyes peeled for a while afterwards but to no avail. The scenery was very beautiful though with wide savannah spread out between hills. When you are up high like we were you are really reminded just how beautiful and remote the place is; Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more. And the journey will remain with me for many years to come, but because I was cramped but because of the good humour, the scenery and the mind boggling road, leading through rivers, up the side of hills, past schools, through vegetation that is taller than the car and through awe inspiring wilderness.

The opening went well, though the minister sent her lackey rather than risking the journey herself. A wise thing too as the (sadistic) fathers wanted the minister to see for herself just how bad the rural roads are and so told the locals to not do anything to improve the route. The speeches were quick, the entertainment was good and plenty of locals turned up. However… the best entertainment was on the return journey when we found two of our priests and the bishop stuck in the mud. I've already explained the mud situation but it had rained Saturday and Sunday so the ground was quite ‘soft'. The memory of the bishop up to his ankles in thick grey mud makes me smirk even now. Someone said they had a cable to which Fr. Andrew raised an eyebrow, "A Chinese (manufactured) cable?" he asked. Stuck in the mudWe hooked up to the two cars and Andrew suggested everyone stand back. Five seconds later the cable snapped without the stuck car moving an inch. Anyone who knows Andrew knows what he said next. Those that don't are surely smart enough to work it out. Next up was the rope, which ended up being the winner although it took two attempts. Soon the stuck car was on its way and for some unexplained reason sped away at a terrific pace. A bruised ego may have been heavy on the pedal.

Now I have to do the same thing again tomorrow for another school opening, this time in Namakube. Ah the joys.

Until next time,
Mr. Silly O'clock

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