“A nomad can’t travel without a headlamp,” said Claire by the fire after our last dinner byLukupa River, the property the young American couple Justin and Claire had purchased to start their organic WOOFING farm (http://www.lovenlightlukupa.com/).
“I know,” I said, remembering how my backpack was stolen with my headlamp in it.
“So here’s one for you to say thanks for all your hard work,” Claire and Justin presented me with a blinding headlamp that his mother had sent over in a pack of two as part of his birthday package.
I was speechless. I didn’t know how to react other than stuttering out, “Thank you, guys!”
And to think, this all started about two weeks ago when I bumped into Justin on the streets of Kasama.
“We run an NGO called Kasama Micro Grants which provides scholarships for young Zambian women from rural areas for education and empowering them for gender equality,” explained Justin.
“If you feel like it,” he said later that evening over the fire in Kapata village, “you’re more than welcome to come to Lukupa and help us build our guest house and draw water from the well.”
“Can you swim in the river?” I had asked.
“There’s no crocs or hippos?”
“No crocs or hippos,” Justin grinned.
Feeling healthy enough to embark on a 3-day bender with Trey (Claire’s brother), Thandi and Henry, we celebrated 50 years of Zambia’s independence (don’t ask what happened because I don’t recall much).
In between bar hopping we were invited to Claire’s former village where she had lived for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. We were honoured with a slaughtered goat, some home-made wine that had a distinct, sour milk taste, a home-brewed beer that after one sip was impossible to drink (smokiest beer ever made) and dancing.
After the beer-loaded weekend, I headed out with Trey to Lukupa where I was to spend a week helping out with what was needed.
“There’s no electricity,” saidJustin. “And no running water. We use water from our neighbour’s well as ours isn’t clear yet. Or you can drink boiled river water. And the outhouse is just a hole in the ground.”
“But you can swim in the river, right?” I haven’t swam since… hell, I can’t even remember. Was it in South Africa? That would’ve been around May…
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Trey confirmed.
We hiked from the road through a small local village, all the kids calling out, “How are you?” and even though we answered, “Wino. Moolishani?” in the local Bemba, they’d just keep repeating it.
After about a half-hour the newly thatched roof of the main house came into view.
To it’s right, above the freshly dug well on a deserted ant colony the size of a small hill, stood what would soon be the open-air kitchen. Across the ways, the guest house, still missing its last few rows of brick stood proud amongst the trees. To the left of it all flowed the gentle Lukupa River.
“Let’s go for a dip,” Trey suggested.
Not needing to be told twice I hit the clear water, exploring the underwater grasses and rotting leaves. The current was strong enough that you could swim against it and then be carried back down.
“This is amazing!” I called out.
We splashed about for an hour and then headed up to the neighbour’s for dinner of nshima. Justin had told them about my bartering ways and they were curious to meet me. No one spoke English but having been in Zambia for three years, Justin (as well as Claire) speaks fluent Bemba and conversed freely with them, translating for me.
That night, after setting up my hammock, I lay in it, lightly swinging, gazing up at the stars. A cold chill swept through, the coldest time just before sunrise at zero five. It was good to sleep out among the trees, being stirred awake to the sounds of the African wild – insect wild that is.
There’s some freaky things out there that make even freakier noises.
My first job of the morning was to draw out water from the 10-meter deep well.
“To help clear up the silt that’s collected,” explained Justin. “Once you tire of that you can try to make bundles of thatching for the roof.”
Justin had hired the best roof thatcher in the village who was meticulous with putting in the thatch. Justin showed me how to bundle up the thatches.
“Grab about a double handful of thatch,” he explained, “then stack it so it evens out. Then you place one end across these nails – ” he demonstrated – “and run it back and forth to catch out all the overhangs. Once you’ve done that, wrap up the bundles with the rope.”
It was easy enough and passed the first few hours of the morning in the much needed shade (it cracks 30 degrees by zero eight). A call for a dip was quickly answered with a cannonball off a tree.
Resuming work, I suggested too help with the brick laying. I became the runner, mixing the cement in the wheel barrow, then handing up the cement to both Justin and Trey – Justin would lay the brick while Trey would come up behind, filling in the spaces. Within a day and a half the brickwork for the guest house was done.
On day two some local kids had arrived with two field mice they had caught and killed (‘kupanga’ in Bemba). As we brewed some tea they threw the mice on the fire – fur and all. Then they offered us a bite.
How does one refuse? I munched on a tiny hind leg, crushing the soft bone.
“Hmm,” I contemplated, “not really my thing.”
On the third and fourth day Justin and I planned and constructed a bath house made entirely of branches as posts and dry grass as walls.
As we applied the grass Trey was drawing water from the well when he called out, “Snake!”
We peered down the well and 10 meters below, swimming around in desperation to find somewhere to rest, a small black snake was trying to stay above water. Trey and Justin attempted to catch it with sticks but coming from Oz, the great land of serpents and all things deadly, I had to step in to show them how it’s done – Crocodile Dundee style. I threw in the bucket and hoisted out the drowned snake.
“Is it a mamba?” I asked, secretly hoping that I had just fished up Africa’s most dangerous snake (and one of the planet’s most aggressive ones).
“It’s definitely not a mamba,” confirmed Justin. The snake was clinically dead. “We have to kill it as I don’t know what it is and I’m not willing to take a risk.”
I was a little bummed about the quick sentencing of the reptile but being out bush,
“Can we eat it?” Trey asked.
“Sure,” Justin said and, cutting off the head, peeled its skin back and gutted it within a minute. “That was easier than gutting a fish,” he said, losing his snake gutting virginity right before us.
Trey spiced up the reptile with red curry powder, salt and, after roasting it for about seven minutes on the fire, added a dash of lime.
“Tastes like chicken,” I commented, the others munching in agreement.
The roof thatcher was not impressed, though. The locals hate snakes and will kill them without a second thought but they won’t eat them and found it a little disturbing that we did (it was only a week ago that I had slaughtered my first chicken, cutting off the head.
“If you’re gonna eat it,” Trey philosophised, “then you should be able to kill it.”
He’s right, in a sense. I don’t think I could slaughter a cow or goat but the chicken was easy. And nothing beats fresh chicken).
Friday morning, frustrated that the water in the well wasn’t getting any clearer, a professional well-digger was brought in. He climbed down the 10 meter shaft and within two and a half hours had not only widened the base of the well, but had dug it four feet deeper with Trey, Justin and myself rotating to bail out the water and silt.
“Monday it should be clear,” I presumed is what the well-digger said to Justin in Bemba.
In the afternoon, I helped Justin build a rack for the planks of wood and branches to be used to make the roof for the guest house before taking a final dip in the river and bike riding back to Kapata through green fields, villages, past a prison and furrowed waterways for an hour and a half.
If anyone’s interested in experiencing life off the grid and helping out with organic farming, you can contact Justin and Claire through the following website: http://www.lovenlightlukupa.com/.
To help with their NGO project, look them up here: http://www.kasamamicrogrants.org/