Stories from the Luangwa Valley

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Hi everyone! This the first post on our StudioZambia blog! In the coming weeks you can expect to see here updates on all our adventures in Zambia and more importantly on how our project StudioZambia is coming together.

We left for Zambia almost 2 weeks ago. And what for weeks!

Week 1

After a flight from Amsterdam with the biggest plane we’ve ever seen, we arrived on Wednesday in Lusaka Airport. After a night in the air we were anxious to have a good night’s sleep but no such luck! We had to get up in the middle of the night to take a bus at 4:30 am with destination Mfuwe!

Arriving in Croc Valley camp where we would be staying in tents for the coming 6 weeks, we were immediately greeted by hippo’s sunbathing on the banks of the Luangwa river!

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Hippo’s as seen from our breakfast table!

Friday 1 July , the first day after we arrived in Mfuwe, we already established contact with Karen from Project Luangwa and had a meeting with the teachers of the Mfuwe Day Secondary School. This meeting proved very successful with the first Playmaking lesson planned for the next Wednesday!

Sunday we met with Bernard from SEKA early in the morning (everybody in Zambia seems to start their day around 6 am). We were absolutely thrilled when he invited us to a performance of his theatre group the same evening!

In the back of the SEKA truck we got a chance to meet everybody from Bernard’s group as we were travelling to the lodge where the play would take place. During our journey we entered for the first time the South Luangwa National Park under a beautiful sunset. It seems that every sunset here in Zambia is breath taking! In the incredible fancy lodge we helped SEKA with their set up and we even joined them in their warm-up.

At 8 pm –late in the evening here in Zambia- the play finally started! The SEKA actors brought the animals from the bush alive through inventive use of some basic props and incredibly detailed imitations of warthogs, hyena’s, kudu’s – a type of gazelle-, elephants, honey badgers…

Afterwards the actors from SEKA introduced us briefly to the Zambian night life with some dancing and drinking at the local bars. Now we know where all the music is coming from when we go to sleep in our tents!

Week 2

Monday and Tuesday consisted of meetings with SEKA, shopping for supplies and preparation for our first Playmaking lesson with the students.

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A visit to the props room of SEKA

On Wednesday we finally had our first encounter with the students from the Mfuwe Day Secondary School. After meeting with the deputy head of the school, we introduced ourselves and the project to 4 classes, which meant we saw about 200 children! The project was explained through a short play in which Anke, playing a dizzying ‘Kavuluvulu’ -a whirlwind for the uninitiated- wanted to show the world she is the strongest by picking up a heavy warthog, almost too convincingly portrayed by Bernard from SEKA.

After our introductions a monumental task lay ahead of us: sorting through the 200 students who applied for our project!  In the end we decided on a group of 14 play writers, 18 set builders and about 40 musicians for the performance.

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Picking the names of all the students who applied

At 2 pm our first playwriting lesson started. SEKA started off the session with a warm-up comprised of some beautiful -but for us incomprehensible- songs in the local language Chinyanja. As we struggled with the song “Dju, dju, dju, mani djulila wa Seka”; roughly meaning “Open, open, open, open the door for Seka” all the Playwriting students sang immediately as if they were a part of SEKA themselves! Unlike us who tried to mumble along in Chinyanja with the actors and the students. In the first lesson the kids learned all about how to make an interesting character for a story and how to add suspense and excitement to a theatre play.

In the evening we all celebrated the actual start of our project as well as the birthday of Anke!

Thursday afternoon we headed back to the school for our second playwriting lesson and the very first props and sets class! Under the experienced guidance of Simon from SEKA the new students learned how to use their imagination for creating props. For example as an exercise they had to imagine as many ways as they could think of on how to use a “patapata” –a flip flop in English- as a prop.

If you are curious what a typical meal is here in Mfuwe, take a look at this picture where you can find “Nshima”, consisting of a mixture of corn and water which you have to knead into little balls and dip in the sauce or soup you like. When I say that this is a typical meal, I mean this is what everyone eats here for breakfast, lunch and dinner day in day out. Even most local restaurants often offer only Nshima with a choice of chicken or beef.

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Chicken with Nshima, the white stuff in the corner

Friday was our last day at the school for this week. For the music of the play we were very curious what happens in a typical music lesson in the school. Mister Kanyanza was very kind to let us sit in at his lesson for the students of 8B and we got a sneak peek how music education was taught in the school.

At 14 hours the playwriting students started on their very own practice play with the description of the main character. It was immediately clear that the students were anxious to write down their own imagination. During the Scribble Scrabble exercise some interesting characters came up such as Planet Jupiter who wanted people living on him like on earth and Flowers who was afraid of losing her beauty.

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Working hard on their very own characters

 

The end of the playwriting lesson meant that it was time for the music class to start. What a crowd showed up on a Friday afternoon just before the weekend!  The whole library was filled with dancing and singing pupils! Anke gave an amazing singing lesson with everyone enthusiastically joining in with all the singing exercises and songs ranging from ‘Lollipop’ to ‘The lion sleeps tonight’. It is fair to say that the whole day had been a great success! We and all the students look very much forward to the next week of playwriting, set building and music making.

 

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Warming up our tongues for some singing in the music class!

On our way home the day got even better when two giraffes ran up the road just in front of our taxi in order to show off how tall and beautiful they were!

Saturday meant a welcome day off for our team after such a busy first week! To have a break from all the Nshima of the last few days we made ourselves a fire and enjoyed a very yummy barbecue!

On Sunday some of us woke up very early to go on our very first safari! We walked around the bush accompanied by a ranger with a large rifle in case of attacks from lions, leopards but mainly for protection of the hippo’s! We saw some beautiful zebra’s, elephants and impala’s, but mostly we saw a lot, and I mean a lot, of animal poo! We became an expert on the differences between elephant droppings and those from buffalo’s, and also from the public toilets of impala’s to the digested fur excreted by lions.

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Zebra’s on our walking safari! (a more pleasant scene than a picture of elephant dong)

Now we are busy preparing all the lessons for the coming week. See you soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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