Hello again! The last weeks were our busiest yet as the days were just packed. But we still owe you another long awaited blog-update on everything that happened! This post will include us being chased by an elephant, the first repetitions with SEKA, eating elephant meat and our encounter with the Zambian police!
First let’s start with what happened after our last blog post.
On Monday the 18th of July we visited a banana paper factory! During our stay in Croc Valley we met Peo from Sweden. He explained to us that he works in a company that makes paper from the waste of banana trees. As you have to cut down a banana plant after it gives the fruit, there is a lot of unused waste. After a year the banana tree grows back again. Their aim is to make it as sustainable as possible by making sure the paper can be used as a substitute to normal paper. Unfortunately it doesn’t smell like bananas.
As we fell in love with their slogan: ‘Be serious, go bananas!’ and the idea of making paper from banana trees, he invited us to visit the factory he is building in Mfuwe. He was also interested in our project and the collaboration with SEKA as they are building a stage at the factory and he would like to see if some sensitizing and educational plays could be performed there.
During the visit our mouth fell open with how focused they are on sustainability. They thought of nearly everything: the whole factory is powered by solar and hydro-energy, an equal employment of women and men, a decent salary and working hours, ear protectors (very unusual in Zambia!), biofuel in all their vehicles, the remaining water from the plants is high in phosphor and can be used as a fertilizer and the list goes on and on! At the end they even wanted to sponsor us with paper for all the invites and the posters! We will definitely see them again.
In the afternoon we had another wonderful event as we took our playwriters on an exciting trip to Croc Valley, where we sleep every night among monkeys, elephants, antelopes and hippo’s! We chose this change of scenery in order to inspire the students as they would start on their final play. As all the students were dying to go along, the full gang of 15 students was present!
Sitting close togther in the back of the SEKA truck, the whole village could hear us coming by as we launched in song after song! After arriving we provided them with a delicious lunch -nshima, no surprises there- delivered from Dorika, the owner and chef of our favourite Zambian restaurant Dorphil.
As it wasn’t clearly enough announced by us, most of the students had already eaten their lunch at school, but they were more than happy enough to just eat a second lunch!
After the warming up we could finally start on their plays. Helping 15 students with just us 5 writing buddy’s (SEKA had a performance and couldn’t not assist us) proved to be a phenomenal task when everyone was starting on their plays. At the end of the afternoon we were all extremely worried how we could make sure that all the plays would be finished in time. We only had 2 days left before the exams would start! But luckily everyone enjoyed the trip very much!
The next day started with a bit of a panic as we were supposed to take the props student to the SEKA-plot for some hands-on experience with the making props from the bush, but we ran out of gas for our truck and so did the gas station! Luckily we made it back just in time at the school. At the school we let SEKA along with some enthusiastic teachers take the props students on the trip as we had to focus on finishing the plays in the writing class. We ended up with 7 nearly finished plays! At the end of the afternoon the props students arrived back overjoyed and singing so loudly that SEKA unexpectedly planned another trip for them to the plot.
Wednesday was the last day of our time at the school. Today the plays should be finished as the exams were starting on Friday. After some very hard work we ended up with 11 plays! We were so happy as we thought on Monday that it would never happen in time. As 4 students didn’t show up on Tuesday and Wednesday we decided to plan an extra session on Friday for those 4 after their exam.
In the evening Calvin from SEKA invited us to his home were we met his family and got some nshima.
In our planning Thursday was a free day to recover from the stressful week, but as we could have expected it didn’t happen. David left early in the morning for the library of the school as some of the students asked for a tutoring lesson in physics before their exams. At the school the impromptu announced props class for Saturday was also coordinated with the school. Back in Croc Valley the rest of the team was busy typing out all the scripts of our plays and this would take two more days.
Friday meant the last chance for the 4 students who hadn’t finished their play. Luckily Danny, Harrison and Idah showed up, but we were sad that we didn’t see Martha anymore. In the end we ended up with 14 finished plays. We were so glad that one of the biggest hurdles of our project has been overcome. Now the next and perhaps even bigger one: rehearsing and perfecting 14 (!) plays in just under two weeks’ time together with SEKA to make one big, exciting performance.
In the afternoon we undertook a 30 minute drive to the airport of Mfuwe in order to withdraw some money as we were all experiencing some cash flow problems. The remaining time we spent working on our crowdfunding rewards.
Saturday morning we split our team in two groups, one went with SEKA for the extra props lesson and the other spent the morning finishing the task of typing out all the 14 scripts. Result: 97 pages of script carefully written by our playwriters!
After stopping by the print shop we were finally on our way to our first reading of the script with SEKA. As they had a performance at the Mfuwe lodge later that evening we finished reading the scripts in the fancy library of that lodge. Although it was our second time, we still enjoyed the ‘Kusanga’ or wildlife play. And certainly at the end when they performed two extra songs just because we were in the audience!
A fun fact: I am now writing this as I am stuck in the common bathroom waiting to go to my tent for the night while two elephants are blocking my way to the tent. Now this is a problem you don’t encounter back home!
In our planning Sunday would mean the first repetition. Now somehow we forgot that on Sunday everyone goes to church and that includes all the actors of course. So unexpectedly we changed the schedule and we had a day off. This was very welcome as some of us had had some bad chicken pizza, although very tasty. The rest drove through the South Luangwa National park. The drive ended spectacularly when a leopard walked by less than 2 metres from the car!
Monday was a very special day as the first rehearsals of the plays finally started! This was very exciting and also nerve racking as we were worried that the 14 scripts would be too much to do with only 9 repetition days left until the performance planned on the 4th of August. There was also the big worry that some of the scripts were very lengthy with lots of text to be learned and SEKA being much more experienced in physical theater than in learning lines and playing out written scripts. Nonetheless we and SEKA set out together to fulfill this daunting task!
Our repetition days all start with a very nice warming up. We then immediately started with the 3 longest and most elaborate plays of the bunch. It was so nice to finally see SEKA act the plays out.
The day went well until our greatest setback -in competition with some setbacks still to com- of the whole project happened: our wallet with some of the money for the project got stolen!
During the shopping for the lunch with SEKA our wallet disappeared. After telling SEKA what happened, they immediately jumped in the car to go search for the wallet. They went up to the police station to get the only officer in Mfuwe to come with us and the policeman got in the SEKA car and we drove back to the market. Upon arrival at the market the girl who sold us groceries just before the wallet disappeared, ran away when she saw everyone coming. After grabbing her, we found out that she was a witness and saw who took the wallet, but she got scared and that is why she ran off. Alongside the girl the policeman also took the 3 guys with him who were the culprits according to the witness.
During the interrogation of the girl and the suspects, the officer made a grave error when he questioned the 3 guys together with the girl. This meant that they could intimidate her and as such she was too scared to tell the truth. The police officer subsequently didn’t trust the girl anymore and thought she also took part in the stealing of our wallet. As we were worried for the safety of the girl because of threats from the suspects we stayed there until we were certain that she would be safe.
We spent the entire afternoon and parts of the following days there as well. It was a very difficult situation as the police was convinced that the girl was also guilty. The police came up with the solution that if the suspects would pay back the money we lost they would be free. Now this seemed like a reasonable solution as we would have our money back and if we would have to wait for it to go to trial, chances are that they would go free anyway. The suspects agreed to pay the money, which for us meant that they were almost certainly guilty, otherwise they wouldn’t have money to pay for it. But the police also wanted that the girl paid a part of the sum. This was of course not how we would want it to go as she was not guilty according to us and she would never have enough money to pay. In the end we were left with the choice of either dropping all charges or letting it go to trial. Now it turned out that the girl who didn’t speak English was also a 12-year-old orphan and if we were to let the case go to trial she would need to go to a city 4 hours away and be put in jail awaiting the trial as the police thought of her as a suspect. As this was totally against everything we represent with our project we decided to drop the charges for the girl to not have to go through that ordeal.
Besides this unfortunate episode in our project, everything else luckily went well. From Monday we had in theory every weekday a repetition planned from 8 am until 4 pm. But as we are in Africa we never had such a simple day! Almost everyday our truck didn’t start so we had to push it to get it going. Now that is a morning workout! It seems to be a very strict rule here in Zambia that nothing ever goes as planned.
Tuesday we continued with 6 new plays! By then we would have already done 9 of the 14 plays. In the evening we welcomed Danielle and Mattijs from Amsterdam here in Mfuwe. They offered to help us for a week with the project and they arrived just in time because it was getting a bit overwhelming for our team.
On Wednesday morning they immediately joined the repetition and helped us and SEKA with their experience in theater making and took some of the directing roles upon themselves.
After the repetition and our last visit to the police station we went for some much needed drinks with everyone. When we say everyone we always mean our team together with SEKA. During our time working together they’ve become our friends and not just colleagues. Even from the first day we met them we were already “Pa mosi”, meaning “as one” or together.
During the drinks we introduced SEKA to the game “Werewolves” where there are people in a village getting murdered each night by some werewolves and the task of the villagers is to find out who of their fellow townsmen are turning into werewolves at night before everyone is devoured. The game was a big success with everyone accusing each other to much amusement of the group. Playing “Werewolves” with SEKA in Zambia, now that’s something to take off our bucket list!
If you were wondering what kind of music they listen to here in Zambia, then we it is very simple: there is just one song called “Do the reverse“. When I say they only listen to one song, I mean one song. We heard it at least 10 times every single day and when we went to a bar in the evening double that amount.
At the end of the day we were invited by Undani, the music teacher from the school. We went to dinner at his home to thank him for his big enthusiasm and engagement with the project. There we met his nephew Peter who proudly showed us his music video that he made in the South Luangwa National Park when he was part of the conservation club at his school.
For dinner Undani prepared a very special dish for us: elephant! Now we were a bit hesitant to eat an endangered animal, but he explained that sometimes rangers from the park shoot an elephant who is destroying the crops and property of villagers. Subsequently to not let go the meat to waste, it is then distributed to local schools and to the chief who gets the trunk as this is supposedly the best part. We still had some moral issues with eating it but out of politeness and for it not to go to waste the guys in the team had a piece. The taste of it was fine, but it was the toughest meat I have ever tried. It seems that the elephant really didn’t want to be eaten. This was another, in some ways hopefully, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Thursday after some shopping for some supplies beside the rehearsals, some of us started on the props and sets for the play. SEKA proved to be incredible at making them. From only some rope, metal wire and some sticks we made in no time a shield for a tortoise, a mask and ears for a hare, wings for a bee… The creativity and speed of them was so impressive. Simon for example, the king of props of SEKA, just starts working on it without having to think it out and before you know it he has build it. Another example of their resourcefulness is that in order to cut off some wire they just bend the thick metal wire many times for it to break off and laugh at us when we search for a cutter.
In the afternoon we stopped at the offices in charge of the National Park so we could pay on Saturday a free visit -otherwise it is 30 dollars a person- to the South Luangwa National park for us to observe the wildlife which would be present in the performance.
Something funny we noticed here in Zambia is that they have difficulty with the letters “R” and “L”. Sometimes we were very confused when they told us that the car didn’t work because of a problem with the ‘blakes’. Other examples include the lines in the play about the Chameleon and the Bird performed by Benard: “I’m brind! I’m brind, I can’t see!”. Or Simon telling us we need to buy “wood gru” and “laser blades”.
Friday we split in two groups with Esther and David going to the airport to withdraw money as most of it was stolen. In the airport they met up with Anna Tolan from Chipembele, an educational centre for wildlife conservation. She invited the whole team to visit the centre on Sunday morning and we in turn invited her to the performance. After the airport they also searched for paint, bought some fabric for the costumes and went again to the Banana Paper Factory to pick up the banana paper for the invitations.
The rest of the team stayed at the SEKA-plot and continued with the plays. With the help from Mattijs and Danielle the rehearsals went very well. We were hopeful that the performance would get finished in time!
As already said none of the days here go as planned as we were told by the park officials that we had to visit the park today instead of on Saturday as planned. So we rushed to get ready to go on an unexpected safari. Now luckily this is the opposite of an unpleasant thing to change last minute.
On the drive together with SEKA they showed us around the park, told us the difference between a puku and an impala -puku is bigger and dark brown, while an impala is smaller and with its tail always tucked between his legs-, told us a disturbing story about zebras, took us to the grave of Norman Carr, famous explorer in Zambia and grandfather of Miranda, the director of SEKA and they jumped out of the car through the wildlife-infested bush to get the bark of a “Tototo”-tree. This is supposedly an aphrodisiac which you can only find in the park as all the trees outside were cut down by the villagers who really like the stuff. Now except for a sore throat we didn’t really notice anything. In the end we had a really nice visit but unfortunately we didn’t see lions or leopards for which we wanted some inspiration for the costumes and also because it would be really awesome to see them.
This is the end of our third blog post. You can read about our remaining adventures very soon. The next post will be our most exciting one as you will get to hear everything about the performance. Other parts will include us being chased by an elephant, the long-awaited meeting with the chief, the almost-cancellation of the show, getting stuck at the airport and most importantly the performance of “Grow Up!”.