Thursday, July 16: Firsts

There were riots yesterday. We left before 0900 for Munyaya, the village where the school is located. Heading west on Mosi-Oa-Tunya Road, Livingstone’s main street, the first sign of trouble was traffic coming toward us in the wrong lane, treating the four-lane highway as a two-lane road. The reason: taxis blocking the two lanes opposite. We at first assumed a wreck, a frequent occurrence here, but then found the stones and blocks of concrete in the road. The next intersection was chaos, people crammed down the crossroad and spilling out onto the highway, smoke down the road, police in riot gear standing above the crowds. Thankfully we were able to drive on.

We learned later in the day the protests were in response to increases in fuel prices and road tax, announced sometime the day before. Fuel (petrol) is now upwards of K10 per litre (over $5/gallon) and the government decided to raise the road tax, exacted I gather on taxi drivers, over 150%. Taxi drivers began protesting, burning tyres in the middle of the road. The police came out in force, throwing tear gas and arresting 54 people. Businesses shut down for the day. The truck bringing supplies to Munyaya, supposed to leave an hour or so after us, was unable to do so.

By the time we drove back through town, around 1600, the protesting was over and cleanup well underway.

*          *         *         *         *

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We head west, leaving Livingstone for the open space of the bush. We pass the gates of Victoria Falls Game Park and pull over when we see a group of wildebeest and zebra (said with a short e, like “zed”). Fran and I exit the truck and snap photos. Apparently even in the game park, seeing them so close to the road is unusual.

We travel on to the village, turning off the highway onto a gravel road. We pick up a woman walking along the gravel to the clinic up the road (which Partners in Development built in 2005). She has walked 15km to go to the clinic to pick up her ARVs – anti-retrovirals for the treatment of HIV. We drop her off, chatting with the lone nurse working at the clinic today. The road turns to rocks, then to a pair of tyre-tracks traced in red sand.

When we arrive, Lonnie shows me around the school. It is situated between the house and garden of a Rasta man who Lonnie has been talking with on the phone for the last two days, the Turners’ primary connection to the village. (I will not use his name out of respect for his privacy.) His children – two nieces, and a 2 year-old son named Lonnie – want to play. (Little Lonnie grabs a post-it from my notebook and sticks it on his forehead, shaking his head back and forth vigorously.)

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We walk from the schoolhouse to the village main. Partners in Development is donating a diesel Chigayo – a hammer-mill to grind maize – to the village. Currently, the women have to carry their corn 7km to the nearest such mill; it is hoped that providing the mill will not only make the women’s lives much easier, but will provide an extra source of income by charging women from nearby villages to grind their corn. Today, we are inspecting the planned site for the engine shelter in preparation for the arrival of the Chigayo tomorrow and construction next week. (I say “we”. Really, I’m tagging along, pretending I’m doing something meaningful while actually trying to catch up on what’s going on. Actually, that’s a pretty good description of my time here so far.)

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The people gather for a town meeting to discuss the mill. The engine for the mill is arriving tomorrow. The Azungus – white people – and headman get chairs and the women sit on reed mats on the ground. The kids are not interested in the meeting, but are curious about the Azungus.

Following the meeting, we walk back to the schoolhouse and turn the truck around. We have a treadle pump in the back to give to an elderly woman in a neighboring village for her garden. We stop in the village, greeted by calls of “Azungu” from the children. I walk to the river through the garden carrying the handle of the pump; I want to see it installed to see how it works.
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The men are assembling the pump (and I, per usual, feel in the way) when a chorus of children start calling from behind us:

“How are you Teacher? How are you Teacher?” (All of the emphasis is on the “you”, making the repeated sentence into a child’s verse sung in round.) Six or seven children are standing hands-on-knees on the embankment, looking down at me.
I mimic their stance: “I am fine. How are you?”
“How are you Teacher?”
“I am fine. How are you?”
“I am fine. How are you Teacher?” And so on.
At some point, I shake one of their hands. Then I have to shake all of their hands. Then they all want to shake hands again. It becomes a game to see who can get Teacher to shake hands next.
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One of the local students in the eighth grade (again, not posting names), sits weaving mats in the midst of all this. “Say ‘I am fine’,” she tells the children. She went to school this morning, a government-run facility multiple kilometers’ walk away, only to return when the teacher failed to appear. She’s quiet, but I hope to get the chance to talk with her more.

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