Just returned from Mwape. 4 hours on a bus, then 2 hours on a dirt road in the Chieftainess' Land Rover. Jess has done this 5 times before, so it's all old hat for her. The Chief is a modern woman, seems lonely. I think she was reluctant to become Chief when her family unanimously nominated her four years ago. She used to be an assistant accountant at Zesco, Zambia's only electric company. She gave the paychecks out to the workers.
Mwape == remote. A teacher told us he bikes 43 km on the dirt road and climbs a particular tree to find cellphone reception to call home. No electricity in the entire village, except 3 solar panels: one at the school, 2 at the Chief's palace. So dark. But at night, you can always hear children laughing and shouting. Sounds like they're just over the next hill or down the road. One morning I awoke before it was light and heard a chorus of voices singing. Lay in bed and listened for a while, then got up and wandered down the dark dusty path to find them. Walked a long way and they stopped when the sun rose, so I walked back.
The children call out and follow when we walk by. Most know Jess's name already and they shout it when we pass. So many kids. I went to watch a soccer game on my own, and a crowd of 25ish children accumulated around me, quietly watching me as I looked over their heads and pretended to focus on the soccer players. A woman looked at the swarm of kids, then laughed and with a mischievous grin and told me in English her son was sick, could I touch his head and heal him? I never considered myself a "kid person," but here they smile at me and laugh with delight if I smile back and I just want to scoop them up in my arms and take them home with me. One of the Mwape reports says 48.8% of the population is under 15.
Soccer game was awesome. Fans stood on the sides of the dusty pitch and sang as players raced past. Each time someone scored a goal, everyone ran onto the field yelling and cheering. The soccer uniforms sure looked spiffy for a place where people battle with malnourishment and bilharzias. One of the most incredible sights I've seen: when the game ended, all the fans ran onto the field singing--the colors on their clothes swirled through the clouds of dust on the field as the sun set.
Mwape has so many problems. The basic school is gypped out of the textbooks it's supposed to receive from the government. There isn't enough classroom space, because there’s a teacher living in a classroom, because there’s not enough teacher housing, so they cut the classroom time for the kids. Drinking water is contaminated, it's hard to get chlorine, virtually no one uses soap and the place is so friggin remote that farmers can't sell extra crops for income because transport is so hard. But the community feels vibrant, even when kids have distended, malnourished little bellies. Haha. We’re so ridiculous. D-Lab is only here twice a year, well-meaning muzungus intruding. We don’t have a clue.