Final fortnight

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I have now returned to the UK after a fantastic final fortnight and a surprisingly relaxing and hassle-free journey via Heathrow. So to fill you in on my last two weeks….

I spent a few days last week assisting RHCF’s main UK donor, the Methodist Relief Development Fund with some queries that they had on the organisation’s 2011 accounts. I have had a couple of meetings with the auditors in Kampala which was interesting to experience being on the other side! I have also been assisting Dr Dickson with the production of an organisational budget for the second half of this year and for 2013. We used the RHCF strategic plan to pull together a list of all the activities and the previous half years actual figures for estimating future costs although this wasn’t really needed as Dr Dickson was amazing at knowing the cost of everything off the top of his head!

Last week I created a template for reporting to donors who do not prescribe a set format and spent a lot of time with the non-financial staff showing them how to produce graphs and process flow charts in excel. On Wednesday, after a morning of filling out AfID forms and adding to the consolidated budget Dr Dickson, Paul and I went out into the field to visit two communities where water sources were planned. Many villagers turned up including the local leaders to listen to Dr Dickson explain the process for funding and local contribution. Paul was translating for me and it was so interesting to learn how the water source is introduced to the community. Dr Dickson explains that MRDF from the UK has funded the well but will only do so with the agreement that the community makes a local contribution. This is in the form of manual labour, tools such as planks and ropes and food and accommodation for the water technician who lives on site during the building of the well. During the introduction meeting Dr Dickson requests people to volunteer to house and feed the water technician, and to elect a secretary and a chairperson responsible for the well during its construction.

It was so great to see how enthusiastic and forthcoming the villagers were with their offers of contributions to the water source construction. It was also explained to them that they must make the decision as to when the construction begins because they must be committed and willing to work from the start. One village requested that they start tomorrow and the other that they start on Monday so they are obviously keen to have access to clean water as soon as possible. During the meetings I had the chance to introduce myself and explain the work that I have been doing with RHCF over the past seven weeks. I really love standing up in front of a crowd and speaking (translated) because they are so attentive and always smile and clap at the end because I have made the effort to speak with them. It’s funny because in the past I was so scared of public speaking but now I love doing it!

My penultimate weekend was spent on safari in the Murchison Falls National Park. Over the course of the weekend our vehicle broke down over 10 times with the radiator overheating. Each time we had to abandon the vehicle, often into tsetse fly filled fields while our driver cooled down and released pressure from the engine. Every so often it made an explosion noise and steam shot out right into his face, steaming up the whole vehicle!

Aside from vehicle problems the weekend was great and marked my third safari in Africa. We walked up to the top of the Murchison falls on Friday evening. The 50 metre wide river Nile condenses into the 7 metre wide falls with the smaller Freedom Falls to the left. The falls didn’t look anywhere near as impressive as Victoria Falls but they sounded extremely powerful. Because of the ravine-like rock formation of the Murchison falls you can’t really see the waterfall head on but it was impressive to be at the top seeing the water gushing down the gap.
On Friday night I had just gone to bed when I heard munching noises right outside my tent. There was a huge hippo roaming around probably 5 metres from me! It was really quite scary because they are the second biggest killer in Africa (after mosquitos). There was a moment when it began to charge at a man who was shining a torch on it and taking photos- he bolted pretty quickly!

The next day we took a ferry across the Victoria Nile (at this point it is split into the Albert and Victoria Nile, depending on the source lake) and then for a game drive in the Northern Delta part of the National Park. We saw many giraffes, elephant, warthog, buffalo, Ugandan Kob, waterbuck, bushbuck. We also saw lots of golden crested cranes and even a Shoebill stork (huge 4ft tall ugly grey birds with a big beak)! Shoebills are even rarer than leopards and in the park there are only about 20 so we were very lucky.

On Sunday we went to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary which was about a 3 hour drive on the way back to Kampala. We spent about an hour and a half walking through the bush to reach the spot where a mother rhino and her two calves were lazing in the shade of a tree. We could get about 30 meters from them in safety because that is the range of their eyesight although apparently they could smell and hear us.

Amazing, incredible, moving, awesome, breath-taking…. I could continue with similar adjectives to describe my last Sunday in Uganda but I think to sum up my gorilla tracking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable forest was probably one of, if not the best experience of my life. We were lucky enough to see all 14 of the Nkuringo family of gorillas in one small clearing. After trekking for only an hour and a half down very steep hills with no path (the armed rangers lead the way carving a path with machetes) we came across a gorilla in a dark patch under some trees. Soon he moved and led us to a bright clearing where the whole family was just chilling out! It was a stunning sight. They weren’t afraid of us at all and just went about their business, babies playing, Silverbacks eating leaves and mothers breast feeding as if we weren’t there.

As I was taking pictures of a small gorilla I felt a nudge in my back, thinking it was one of the group falling into me I glanced around only to see that it was a huge black back male Gorilla! I took in a huge breath as it lurched past me, not caring that I was in his path! Remembering it now it was soft and padded nudge from all the squishy hair!

Gorillas are adorably cute, especially the babies which are just balls of fluff with wrinkled black faces. I thought I would be afraid of the Silverbacks with their awesome arms and huge broad backs but they were so nonchalant that there was nothing to be scared of. I wanted so badly to touch one and have a cuddle (apparently Christmas the silver back would be the best bet because he is the most tame!) but that’s not allowed- even though they touched me.

After about 15 minutes of frantically moving around trying to get the best out of my rubbish replacement camera (I accidentally dropped my Canon a few weeks ago-oops) I settled down in the clearing in front of the family. A young gorilla started to advance towards me, apparently fascinated with my red fish eye camera. I sat down on the leaves, not caring that I was getting painfully stung through my trousers by nettles, as the baby tentatively edged closer and closer. The guards tried to swat it away (you’re not really supposed to touch the gorillas) but I didn’t care I just stayed put! He eventually plucked up the courage and touched my knee, immediately recoiling in a childlike manner and having a little giggle to himself! It was truly incredible to feel the gorilla’s hand on my knee and see its juvenile behaviour, so similar to that of a human child who knows he is doing something naughty but continues anyway. Later on I was crouched with my back to the Gorillas having my photo taken when the same youngster touched my bum! It was hilarious! I think the guards got annoyed with all the attention that I was getting because they told me to move to the back.

Towards the end of our allotted hour with the gorillas, Christmas and I were a metre apart, him munching on a tasty bush and me crouching there in awe taking photos. I couldn’t believe that a Silverback was so tame to approach close to our group and just plonk himself down for a graze. As the guards told us our time was up I glanced across to see a youngster doing a silly little spin around dance in front of its mother who was breastfeeding another baby – an unbelievable sight.

The Nkuringo group are apparently the most habituated but I was in total shock with the close proximity we got within. The guards also said we were particularly lucky because they almost never see all 14 together, and not in a light clearing like we did. The tracking wasn’t hard at all either. I had heard stories from people about it being so steep and exhausting so I paid for a porter ($15, she was called Marie) to carry my bag and help to pull me up the hills. It was extremely steep and slippery but I must be fitter than I had realised because I didn’t need her help at all- still it was nice to have my bag carried and it provides her family with income.

I just want to go back and see the Gorillas again. One hour wasn’t enough, it just flew by and I would happily pay for the permit again tomorrow to do it all again! I hope to return to Africa in a few years and go to Rwanda to trek gorillas in Parc Des Volcans.

As I write this entry, sitting on the promptly departed train to Edinburgh, speeding past perfectly manicured lawns with rain clouds looming overhead I find myself reflecting on the beauty of African chaos. Although at times frustrating, life is just so much more exciting when things don’t go as you had planned. The African landscape is truly breath-taking and so diverse that I don’t think anyone would fail to find an aesthetic to please them. I will miss the beautiful sunny faces, bright and happy children and co-workers who are so dedicated to working towards a brighter future in Zambia and Uganda. Of course I am already missing the weather! I’m sure I will crave succulent fresh exotic food from the roadside- Jackfruit, avocados, mangos, chapattis and impossibly sugary sodas.

I want to thank the School Club Zambia and Rural Healthcare Foundation for looking after me for the past three months and making me feel so at home in countries entirely different from my own. I have really felt part of your teams and will miss working with you.

I can’t even begin to express what a life-enriching and rewarding experience the past three months have been for me and I hope that the contributions I have made to the NGOs I worked with will be of great benefit. Now it just remains to bore all my friends and family senseless with hundreds of photos and stories- looking forward to catching up with you all!

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Water, water everywhere

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I have achieved one of my fortnightly goals- to speak Luganda! I can now speak the basics of how are you? Good morning, please, thank you etc… which has made me very popular with the staff at my hotel and strangers in the street who are shocked that I can respond to them in their own language!

A couple of weeks ago I had a fantastic weekend in the Kibale Forest national park and by the Crater Lakes. My lovely relaxing weekend was preceded by a hilariously uncomfortable journey. I took a large coach from Mubende which was packed full of people, live chickens, bunches of Matoke (local staple food made from a type of banana) in the aisle and hurtling along the road at break neck speed. I was sitting at the back with a man practically on top of me for most of the journey while a small child didn’t take his eyes off me once. Every time we went over a bump (frequently) I was lifted right up off my seat! Thank God it was only a two hour journey because I had such a bad headache from my brain rattling round my skull! Little did I know that was the comfortable part of the journey… After the bus I opted for a Matatu (shared taxi) to take me to my resort. This Matatu was a Toyota car in which they crammed 11 people- two men were in the driving seat, plus luggage, plus two huge sacks of potatoes that they picked up on the way! I couldn’t believe it! I was right at the back squashed in with two other women and my rucksack, it took about 10 minutes for me to get the feeling back in my right buttock. You just have to laugh here, at least it makes travelling a bit more exciting!

The next morning I ate my breakfast in the sunshine overlooking Lake Nyabikere. When my breakfast was served it came with a large bamboo stick. Confused, I asked what it was for. ‘Beating away monkeys who will steal your food’….it proved to be a very useful mealtime accessory! About 6 vervet monkeys surrounded me in the trees watching my every move and on two occasions trying to steal my bananas. I fought them off with only a scratch but they succeeded in taking a bread roll when my head was turned!

After breakfast I took a long walk over to Lake Nkuruba which took around 4 hours and was about 18km. It was absolutely beautiful walking through the forest and over the hills. I stopped at one crater lake where there was a woman and her two children doing their washing and fetching water. Swimming about 20 meters from the shore was a lonely hippo in the shallows! It popped its head up a couple of times and I got some good photos. On the journey back I visited the ‘top of the world’ which offers the most spectacular views of the surrounding area. The sun was shining and the sky was a perfect blue which allowed me to see for miles over the Rwenzori mountains, three crater lakes and the Kibale forest.

On Sunday I went chimpanzee tracking in Kibale. As soon as we entered the park we saw two chimpanzees right up high in the trees. It was so amazing to watch them swinging from branch to branch using their arms just as we would. They are so similar to humans that they share 98.5% of our genetic code. The guides told us that a chimp is stronger than 4 men and the males weigh around 60kg. The way they fight over territory by using fists or any weapons lying handy is so similar to the way humans behave, it’s crazy to think about it! We trekked for 4 hours in the dense forest where the sun could barely shine through the foliage. The trekking was easy although it was quite hot and humid and uncomfortable. We followed several chimps and watched them eating, moving around and even grooming each other.

As well as a couple of fantastic weekends the past fortnight has been very busy with transforming many of the accounting practices at RHCF. Bob, Dr Dickson and I worked on completing the fixed asset register. To the template which already existed I added a tab for recording inventory and a tab for a summary of every asset that RHCF owns. It has been really interesting to see the value of the assets of RHCF, I think they have more than they realised!

Another day Bob and I sat down and input the paper analysis book into excel and reconciled it with the bank statements. This was quite a tedious task because there were several months to complete with many transactions but at least it’s done now. Their records on paper were good because everything balanced with the bank statements and it showed that the donors money had been used to budget.

Another of my tasks at RHCF this fortnight has been as an excel tutor. I have been taking the non-financial staff through basic formulas and letting them practice creating graphs etc. I am also completing an excel guide with explanations and instructions for all of the formulas that we have worked through. Helping the non-computer literate staff makes me feel very worthwhile as they are so thrilled at being able to use excel and the internet and so appreciative of their new skills. All RHCF staff have previously analysed graphs and pie charts in water reports that they use and never before dreamt that they could actually create them themselves.

Last week I created an income and expense schedule and a cash budget template for the Rural Mamas Orphanage. I sat with Dr Dickson and explained the importance of recoding donations and expenditure, even if it is small, because future donors will want to see how the organisation has been managing its finances when it is independent. He has started using it already which is brilliant and I hope that recording the weekly expenditures will help for future planning.

As well as accounting I have also had several facinating afternoons out in the field with the RHCF team. We re-visited one of the water sources to finish it off and officially open it to the school. I watched as the head girl was the first to use the well. There was a sea of bright yellow uniforms in front of me and children pushing and shoving to get a good look. They were delighted and laughed and clapped and ‘gave flowers’ (waving hands in the air) whenever another child came up to drink the water or wash their hands.

On another day the whole team and I went out into the field for a ceremony where bikes were presented to the HIV/Aids assistance ambassadors in the area. We travelled in the Land Rover with 10 bikes on the roof- for once it was not me being stared at as we drove around! The ceremony was held by the roadside in a small village where plastic chairs and wooden benches had been set out for us all to sit. In attendance were all 10 ambassadors, RHCF team, district chairman and pastor. There were many speeches in Luganda (some of which were translated for me) while everyone introduced themselves and spoke about the good work of the ambassadors. I also stood up and introduced myself to the crowd and explained my role at RHCF. It was so fantastic to see the people receive the bikes. They were basic one gear road bikes but had a rack on the back which will be useful in carrying equipment. They will enable the volunteers to travel further afield in the area and give assistance to more HIV positive people.

An account of the past fortnight wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that I have diced with death on the river Nile! I went grade 4 and 5 white water rafting which I think must be the scariest thing I have ever done in my life! On one particularly bad grade 5 rapid I can barely remember paddling before our boat began to tip and we were flipped really badly backwards. I was thrown into the water before I had the chance to take a big breath and pulled swiftly downwards. I could feel other people around me for a while and knew that we have all been pulled into some kind of washing machine vortex. I was spat out to the surface and struggled for a breath but it was less than a second before I was pulled back down again along the river. I was sure I had breathed in water and was in a total panic. It felt like forever until I resurfaced and finally saw a safety kayak paddling towards me. I know I gave the kayaker a look of pure terror because I could feel my eye balls popping out of my head! I couldn’t breathe properly; I could just manage a wheeze until the water had cleared from my windpipe. I clung onto the front of the kayak like a monkey with my legs up around it and was taken back to the raft where three others in my team had been rescued! Obviously my account is extremely melodramatic and I probably wasn’t in any real danger but still a hair raising experience for me!

After that adrenaline pumped adventure I decided I needed a relaxing weekend to follow so I spent it at the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, about 8 hours from Kampala down by the Rwandan border. I stayed on one of the islands in the middle of the lake and as I was the only one going to the island at the time I opted for the free dugout canoe ride. I had to help paddle myself out to the island for an hour- my arms were killing me! I had to keep stopping to ‘take photos’ to give my arms a rest! It was a pretty cool way of seeing Lake Bunyonyi though. The water was still like glass and the hillsides surrounding the lake reminded me of the Italian lakes with the terraced farmland and terracotta orange houses dotted around. I borrowed Gorillas in the Mist from the library and read all day Saturday as I lay on the sun bleached deck by the lake. It was a perfect day. I had been craving the sun so much, spending a lot of my time inside the office. I want to make the most of the sun while I am in Africa because I know it is raining so much back at home!

So after a water-filled fortnight I am now coming into my final couple of weeks at RHCF and feel like there are a million things I still want to achieve before my time is out. Hopefully I can get through it all and leave having laid some good foundations for the organisation to build upon.

Settling into rural life

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I am now coming towards the end of my second week at Rural Health Care Foundation (RHCF), based in Mubende, Uganda. The Mubende district is one of the poorest in Uganda and outside of the town, only 35% of people have access to clean, safe water. On several occasions I have seen people collecting filthy water from stagnant ponds or puddles. RHCF educates the rural communities about clean water and sanitation, HIV/Aids and safe motherhood. It also builds wells with funding from donors in the UK and US and the staff work with an orphanage for children whose parents have died from Aids.

The staff here are absolutely wonderful and have made me feel so welcome. I am working primarily with Bob the accountant, Dr Dickson the Executive Director and Willie the Financial Controller but have also had several trips out into the field with the other staff. The whole team is extremely committed and juggle time in Mubende with their other employment which supplements the small wage (if any) they take from RHCF so that they can support their families.

On our first journey to Mubende we stopped at the Rural Mama Orphanage (about halfway from Kampala) to deliver some food and to erect a set of swings for this children to play on. The orphanage is home to 25 children ageing from 5 – 14, 12 of which are HIV positive. The children all share one bedroom which doesn’t have enough mattresses for them all, they have to share, and not enough mosquito nets to cover all the mattresses. At the time I was there, most of the children were at school but I played for a while with several of them pushing them on the new swings- they loved it!
The past couple of weeks have been a real eye-opener for me. This area of Uganda is the poorest area I have seen so far in Africa. The majority of children do not have shoes, walk around half-naked or in dirty clothes but have such beautiful, kind, happy smiles. I am stared at everywhere I go by adults and children alike. The kids run alongside the car shouting Mzungu! mzungu! (white person), and as soon as they see me they burst out laughing and waving.

We have visited several schools where RHCF have input pit latrines and wells to see how they are progressing. At both the schools all the pupils surrounded me staring but not daring to approach me or talk to me. Unfortunately I can’t speak much Luganda yet (apart from ‘how are you?’, ‘I’m fine’ which I keep forgetting anyway!) and most of the children in the community primary schools do not speak English. A couple eventually plucked up the courage to speak to me and tell me their names which was nice. At first it was strange being stared at all the time and I felt quite self-conscious, but now I am settling into being the only Mzungu in the village!

The majority of my time with Bob has been spent setting up the new accounting software. Before the previous volunteer arrived, RHCF were maintaining their accounts on paper so I think it will be a slow process making the move to software. We have been through the basic principles, familiarised ourselves with how to use it and set up the chart of accounts so hopefully over the next week or so we can start inputting in all of the previous data kept on paper. I have never used this particular software myself so I am learning too! We have also created a good budget vs actual statement which should help RHCF monitor their project expenditure and can be linked to the organisation strategy document that they are in the process of writing.

I had an extremely interesting afternoon in the field last week visiting two wells and helping to finish off their construction. At each of the wells the RHCF team sat down with village members and they self-elected a committee of 9 people to be responsible for the well. RHCF has already held a workshop on sanitation and trained two villagers on how to fit the well but the committee is for the people to take responsibility for its maintenance and care. It was interesting to learn how the committee members must be selected. There must be two children in the committee so that they can carry the skills on to the next generation and the treasurer must always be a woman because they are apparently better with money!

The second well drew a big crowd with even a local journalist taking photos and writing notes. Of course I had to pose in all the photos! Once the well had been contracted I had a go at pumping the water (harder than it looks) which caused much hilarity and applause – a Mzungu using a well!!

This weekend I hope to go on a trip west to the Kibale national park and have made it my mission to improve my Luganda– I will keep you updated with my progress!

A catch up from Kenya

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Jambo sana!
It has been a while since my last blog entry and I feel it is time I filled you in on what I have been doing for the past three weeks.

My workshop at Siansowa school was a great success I think.About 30 people from the school committee and others from the village attended and were keen to learn about financial record keeping. We had devised a lesson plan with lots of interactive games where I asked volunteers to come up and pretend to be buying seeds and selling cabbages at the market. We even brought along props which I think helped to bring the workshop alive. I explained in detail what an expense is and what income is for the school and how to record these on separate sheets. I emphasised the importance of writing down details such as date, name of seller, no. items sold and price and linked this back to the community monitoring every detail of its spending and income so that it knows how much money can be reinvested to keep the school self-sufficient. The workshop lasted almost two hours even though there was minimal material because Stanley had to translate what I was saying into Tonga! I really enjoyed taking the workshop and hope that the committee and other interested parties will retain the knowledge and use the skills they learned to make sure the schools finances are transparent for the whole community.

I left Lake Kariba two weeks ago after having a fantastic last night with a sunset cruise and a braai on Maaze island (fillet steak BBQd is amazing). I was really sad to leave everyone at The School Club. They were so good to me, so enthusiastic about my work with them and such fun people and I feel like I could go back tomorrow. I will miss the idyllic shores of Lake Kariba, especially all my close animal encounters! On one of my last nights on Maaze I awoke at 3am with the noise of animals chomping trees and bushes all around my tent. I was a bit nervous at first because hippos sometimes come all the way up to the tents and 3 elephants were spotted in camp just that morning. But as I laid in bed I could see the shadow of antelope. I got out of bed really slowly and inched my tent zip open so as not to make a noise. I managed to take two photos before the flash frightened them away! There were two huge female Kudu and right outside my tent – amazing!

There have also been plenty of close animal encounters over the past fortnight which I have spent with Mark in Kenya on the most incredible two week holiday.

We made the journey to the Maasai Mara via the Great Rift Valley which runs all the way from the red sea down to Mozambique. Unfortunately the weather was quite misty so we couldn’t see all the way to the other side but you could still get an indication of just how vast the rift is. On out first game drive in the Mara we saw cheetah, elephants, lions and lots of impala, topi and water buck. It was good to see the topi because I think that was a kind of antelope only found in Kenya.

The weather began to turn fierce at around 5.30pm. We had to close the lid of the vehicle and soon the winds were howling, lightning flashing and the rain was sheeting down. There was quite a scary moment when our vehicle got stuck in the mud in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. The Maasai Mara is so vast and remote that you feel like you cannot be reached. We eventually got out and headed back to camp in the dwindling twilight.
The next three days in the Mara and Lake Nakuru we saw both black and white rhinos up close, it was amazing. They are such pre-historic beasts and actually smaller than I had imagined. We also saw hundreds of birds, storks, cormorants, flamingo etc., a majestic male lion very close to our vehicle and buffalo and giraffes. The highlight however was seeing a leopard sitting in a tree! I couldn’t believe that we were seeing such a rare animal that most people who go on numerous safaris are not lucky enough to see! It just sat there on the branch for the whole the whole time we watched and just moved its head from side to side occasionally. Its fur was so perfectly pattered with its spots and such vivid colours that it almost didn’t look real. I could really see the difference between the leopard and the cheetah whose fur is much rougher and duller, has a smaller body and a smaller head with larger ears.

After a few days on safari we spent the rest of our holiday relaxing by the coast, swimming in the crystal clear Indian Ocean and topping up our tans! We stayed for a few days at Mida Eco Camp which is a beautiful elevated camp made out of driftwood, old canoes and coconut trees. There is a roof top bar area where meals and drinks are served and three huts that guests can stay in. We had the Zanzibar hut which was on stilts and we had a bedroom area below and then a fantastic second floor living area with two beds and two sofas so we had the option to sleep up there if we wanted. It offered the most beautiful view of the forest around and the tribal village next door. The Eco-camp is run by members of the Giriama tribe and all profits go back into the community to help with schooling and medical supplies.

It felt like we were it total paradise sitting it the elevated viewing platform of our hut. The food was delicious, we ate fresh fish, coconut rice and spinach vegetable every night with a Tusker beer while the resident guard dog Blaize sat nearby. We made a trip to the Gede ruins by dugout canoe which was an amazing experience! I don’t think any of the other tourists in Watamu saw the ruins this way. The cook, Mateso and the manager of the camp, Eric took us on the canoe which rocked precariously on the waves of the creek, scaring me that we would topple over. But the canoe was actually very sturdy and we were quite safe. We drifted through the sprawling mangroves whose roots were home to many crabs and limpets over to the beautiful ancient Gede ruins.

So after two wonderful relaxing weeks I am looking forward to getting back to work and submerging myself into a new culture. From what I have heard, Uganda is a beautiful country full of friendly people so I can’t wait to meet everyone at Rural Health Care Foundation in Mubende.

I will keep you updated of my new home for the next seven weeks soon!
Love to all my family and friends, I miss you.
H xxxx

Lake Kariba

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Since my last blog entry I have moved to the beautiful shores of Lake Kariba, about four hours east of Livingstone along the Zambezi river. It is a man-made lake created by damming the Zambezi in the 1950’s, causing the displacement of thousands of the Tonga people. It’s hard to imagine now that all the islands in the lake used to be the peaks of mountains and there are still some local people alive who remember their now submerged homes. At night, the lake sparkles with lights from the kapenta rigs where fishermen haul in the tiny fish by attracting them with bright bulbs, later drying them on long benches in the morning sun.
I am staying at the lakeside bush club where there are two resident goats, Pongo and Stevie who like to sit outside my little thatched cottage at night, raiding my toilet paper as a midnight snack! Zebras graze on the lawns and bush buck and impala bound through the trees at night.

Alongside the Kariba Bush Club is the Zongwe crocodile farm which has over 9,000 crocodiles, farmed mainly for hand bags and belts. This week I went on a tour of the farm to see some terrifying monsters up to 4 meters long and can weigh up to 5tonnes! Apparently crocs never stop growing their whole lives and they can live up to 150 years so no one knows just how big the largest one can be. Two albino crocodiles live in a fenced pond right outside the office where I am working and follow me around hungrily – I’m keeping my distance!

For two weeks I am working with the School Club Zambia on their budgeting and also with a small community school in the nearby Siansowa village. We went into Siansowa for a school committee meeting this week which was an amazing experience like nothing I have ever experienced before. The school is a thatched mud hut which doubles up as a church and is ran by the village Pastor. There are just a few rows of rough wooden benches and a blackboard at the front. About 20 people turned up for the meeting which was held in Tonga so Stanley (a SCZ employee and gardener) had to translate for us! We wore our Chitenges (long bright-coloured pieces of Africa fabric worn as a skirt) and I was complemented for tying mine perfectly! The meeting was to discuss the chickens that were getting into the school garden and eating all the cabbages, so people were debating the most effective fencing methods. We then moved onto talking about financing the school and explaining that the school needs the projects like the garden and a tannery in order to earn money and then re-invest that into resources.

I introduced myself and explained that I will be coming back next Wednesday to hold a meeting on basic financial control and recordkeeping. Because Siansowa is in the early stages of development and self-sufficiency the SCZ is keen to get their records in order from the start. I will be teaching basic examples such as recording sales of vegetables and purchasing seeds but because most people are either illiterate or have only completed primary school (and don’t speak English) it is going to be a real challenge. I am going to have to make my tutoring very visual.

This weekend a few other volunteers from Livingstone are visiting lake Kariba so we are all going out to one of the islands for some luxury camping (permanent tents with private bathrooms), a sunset cruise, BBQ and some lake fishing. I’m hoping to spot some hippo and elephant on the island and not to catch a crocodile!

Warthogs and waterfalls

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It is the beginning of my second week in Africa and I am already getting used to life here. People are never in a rush to get anywhere and will always stop to speak, ask how you are, find out where you are from and how you are finding Zambia. So far I can say that it has been incredible.
I have taken a trip to Victoria Falls which is about 8km away from where I’m staying. It was the most awesome sight I have ever seen. It is just at the end of the rainy season so the Zambezi is at its highest and as you approach you can see the giant spray from the road and hear the thunderous roar when you get out of the car. The power and size of the falls are unbelievable. Water crashes down as far as you can see and the spray is so dense that you can’t see the river below. When crossing the bridge it is like torrential rain pouring down and I was drenched from head to toe! In some parts you can see Zimbabwe across the river. I am going to try to go across to Zim next week to see the falls from that side.
I spent the weekend on a safari in the Botswana Chobe national park. Botswana is only a 1 hour bus journey from Livingstone so as I have a multiple entry visa I thought I may as well make the most of it!
We spent the morning on a boat safari on the Chobe river. It was just stunning. As the boat cruised along under the perfect clear blue sky we saw hippo basking in the shallow reeds and baboon, elephant, antelope and crocodile on the shore. On the afternoon game drive we spotted more elephant, some so close to the van that you could almost touch them! Impala, Kudu, giraffe, warthog, buffalo…….. so many! I absolutely loved it.
After a night camping in the bush (I thought there was a warthog right next to my tent so didn’t sleep that well) we got up at 6 for our early morning game drive. It was incredible, we saw a pack of lions out hunting in the early morning cool air. They were fascinating and actually not scary at all even though they came right up in the road between two 4x4s at one point. We also saw a huge group of zebra down by the water. I love how they are so un-camouflaged and how their ears twitch round in all directions to hear because their eyesight is so bad! Although not camouflaged, their stripes are to keep off the mosquitos because apparently mozzies can’t see stripes. I’m considering dressing in only stripes from now on they have already feasted on my legs.
On the way back a fridge just flew off the back of the truck in front of us and was about a meter from hitting the front of our bus! Pretty scary but you just have to laugh at these things here I guess. No health and safety!
As well as all of these excursions I have actually done some work this week! The School Club Zambia (SCZ) are looking to apply for tax exemption as an NGO so on Wednesday we went to see a local accountant in his nearby office. He chatted to us and explained that SCZ must register with the tax authorities, submit an annual return and apply for tax exemption at the ministry in Lusaka. I might be able to help with getting some of the documents in order that they need to apply for the exemption.
Also this week we have counted every asset in the school and given the office a good tidy so now all the books are in one place! It was a pretty laborious process but by having a good stock listing and fixed asset register Indeco can put a value to its resources and budget for what it needs in the future. We have also seen that the Divine Hands tailoring department has bags and uniforms in stock that can hopefully be sold soon to raise money for the school.
I have also begun the process of transferring the paper based Indeco School accounts to excel by setting up a simple cash book and income and expenditure ledgers so that the school has all of its finances in one place. This will not only help for budgeting but also for reporting to donors who want transparency. I will be spending the next few days talking Kay through the process and being on hand for any questions on how to record data. I hope that what I have put in place will make the accounts easier to record in the future.