Just to prove I’m here!

Interviewing the director of Habitat for Humanity in Lusaka.

this is me and my colleague John interviewing Petronella, the director of the international NGO Habitat for Humanity. I love going to their offices, as they’ve got air con, and Petronella can summon bottles of icy water with a click of her fingers.

Me interviewing a member for the communications strategy.

Or, if I’m lucky, and we find a shady spot, I get to work outdoors. This is Genevieve from Mitengo Women Cooperative, who are one of the founding members of the Civic Forum on Housing and Habitat. We were taking advantage of some time before a meeting kicked off to talk about the Forum’s communications strategy.

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First blood

Newsflash – killed my first cockroach. Chased it down my wall, across the carpet and then whacked it with a flip flop. When I left, despite the fact that its guts were spilling (literally), there was still one antler waving. Wonder if it’ll still be there when I get home…

God I’m hard.

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Home in the dark

I’m feeling a bit ashamed of myself for going on about the creepy crawlies so much. Actually, the eight-legged variety seem to have moved out of my bedroom. Does that mean I won? Feel a bit bad in a way, after all they were here first. However I can still hear rustling sounds in the night… Apparently the cockroaches live – INSIDE THE DOORS.

We work a pretty long day here; I get into the office around 8-ish and there’s usually people there already. We leave any time between 6 and 7 in the evening. The other evening my usual lift got stuck in a meeting and I ended up stranded in the office alone at about 7 – by which time it’s pitch dark, and there are no street lights around. I arranged for the usual taxi driver to pick me up and waited in the dark on the road (no pavements) clutching my belongings pathetically. Never have I been so glad to see a taxi pull up. He knows my hosts well so I felt I was on my way home. Until about 20 minutes later when I realised we’d left the usual road, were driving along a dirt track and I had no idea whatsoever where we were going. I was just about to pipe up my concern, as casually as possible, when taxi driver muttered something about not remembering which house it was. I said, none of these houses, and frankly none of these streets – I don’t recognise this place at all. Turns out, taxi driver didn’t know my hosts had moved house. Anyway I explained where they now live and we were there in about ten minutes. Taxi driver thought it was really funny. Me, I was wondering how long it would take the British Embassy to find me.

This was the first time I’d driven at night through the areas that are officially called informal settlements, locally called compounds and we’d call slums. The ‘houses’ are sheds, sometimes painted brightly but often in a state of collapse, some with curtains for doors. Along the side of the road there are small shops and bars, all painted in bright pinks and blues and with hand-painted names and signs. In the night there are fires burning and it seems like all human life is out on the street. It sort of feels a bit like a fair, until you remember that these people survive here day in and day out. There’s limited access to clean water and there are no sewage systems. Yet somehow some kids get to school regularly, as long as they can avoid the rampant TB and HIV/AIDS that is.

There are numerous NGOs and community-based organizations working with these people. Some help them build their own homes with loans and materials, others lobby the authorities to make land acquisition easier and fairer. Some focus on women, others on vulnerable children. Some work with women in rural areas, training them to make bricks and helping them hold on to their land – which traditionally would automatically belong to their husband. I work with the Civic Forum on Housing and Habitat, which brings these organizations together to advocate for adquate housing, and also supports them organizationally for example in developing policies, especially on gender and HIV\AIDS. Ultimately though the aim is to make their voice stronger and more powerful, as they lobby on behalf of the poorest of the poor.

House, George Compound

This is an example of the houses people are living in, in the compounds, or informal settlements.

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Some local flora

flowers, Zambia

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Another day at the office

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of these tiny ramshackle shacks along the roadsides. People spend all day in them selling phone top up cards.

Zain mobile phone top up 'shop'

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The weekend

Last night it was my turn to cook – in fact my turn was overdue to be honest. Been putting it off due to challenges of kitchen, facilities, food – everything really. The kitchen is small-ish, but has only two-ring hob and microwave. Still, simple cooking means less washing up. Had best cockroach moment yet whan Marijke and I were doing dishes, as mid-conversation she spotted whopper, complete with antlers, above the window. Just as we were calling for Cosmas the *&!* thing jumped – well sort of half jumped half flew – and we both shrieked. Horrible, but also relieved I’m not the only one who doesn’t like them.

Some friends had called round so we were 5 for dinner, and I don’t know what they though of my food, which was pasta with a tomato and mushroom sauce, basically our staple diet at home. Think most nights I cook it’ll be pasta.

Had an hour’s lie-in this morning, up at 7.30am instead of 6.30am. Into the office for a bit while journalist came to interview staff about the Government’s lack of action on the housing crisis.

My hosts will probably go to church tomorrow morning, and I’ll probably sleep. Sleep’s tricky for several reasons. Partly because you can hear everything that’s happening in the house, and the house next door if it comes to that. Also because most people have dogs, I think for security, and they bark all night. Sometimes there’s a sort of dog orchestra, when one starts howling and then they all join in, for miles around – it would be really impressive if it wasn’t 4 o clock in the morning. It’s like something off Britains Got Talent. And then of course there’s the heat…

This is the hottest season, and everyone’s suffering, and talking about when the rains come. There are deep gullies either side of every road, but they’re full of leaves, branches and rubbish, and apparently they will become blocked and the roads will flood. But the worse thing is that many people’s homes will be swept away, as if the housing crisis wasn’t bad enough. And all I have to worry about is whether or not I should buy some wellies.

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Table manners

Yesterday I got to try the famous nshima, a sort of sticky porridge made from maize that Zambians eat with everything, all the time. It looks like a cross betwen mashed potato and a white bread roll. Tastes ok, sort of reminds me a bit of baby rice but not as sweet. But the tricky bit is that you use your hands: you take a piece in your fingers and then sort of squidge it and then use it to scoop up the rest of your food. Well, I tried. Made a mess and a complete fool of myself; gave up when all my fingers were covered in food and everyone else had cleared their plates.

Being veggie hasn’t been too hard, we eat quite simply in the house anyway (pasta, rice, beans) and I’ve had really nice food when we go out to meetings, which tend to take place in hotels.

They don’t have our ‘munch culture’ here though, you don’t see people wandering around with cups of coffee, packets of biscuits on desks, bars of choc in drawers (too hot for choc anyway). I’ve explained that I’m a chronic tea drinker, and they just seem to think it’s quite funny. (A lot of what I do seems to be quite funny.) Went to make myself a cuppa this morning, quick look in the fridge – good, still some milk left that I brought in the other day. Made tea, went to get said milk from fridge, and instead found cottage cheese – or whatever milk turns into when it’s 35 degrees outside.

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