After much anticipation, here is the last post of our blog! Although it has been some time, we still owed you one last blog post with the last days of our project. We will pick up right where the last post ended. Grab yourself a good cup of coffee or tea (something that we couldn’t find in Zambia) and dive in!
Saturday the 30th of July we had our last meeting with the music and writing students before the performance and we took them to our rehearsal space at the SEKA plot. The music students learned all the cues when they would provide the sound effects and underlying musical score for the plays and the writing students got to see some of the bits of their plays while preparing their interviews in between each performance.
It was so great to see them all again! In breaks they were all making music with the drums from SEKA, singing the songs they learned and dancing to all the music. Driving with the SEKA truck filled to the brim with singing youngsters was a real sight for all of Mfuwe to see and hear.
Sunday SEKA went to church and we went to Chipembele, Nyanja for rhinoceros, Conservation Center. We met up with Anna Tolan who together with her husband are former policemen who decided years ago to leave the UK and establish a place for pupils to learn about wildlife conservation. Next to the center they also have a Girl’s club and do many programs with schools in the area. At the center Anna and Steve also help wounded animals and bring them back to health before releasing them in the wild. Unfortunately for us there were no animals we could go out and pet, but we did see their pet Douglas. Douglas is a 3-year old hippo! They rescued him when they found him all alone and abandoned shortly after he was born. He roams around their home and she told us that he was scared of some larger hippos the previous night and Douglas stormed the house and broke down their front door!
The center itself was very nice with a little museum to it. On display all things about the local wildlife as well as for example the bone of a puku which grew around a part of a snare trap, a skull of a female lion who had a shotgun pellet sitting in her skull years before she was killed. We also found out who of us weighs as much as a hyena and who is taller than a kudu.
We spent the rest of the day just relaxing for the first time by the swimming pool to prepare for the last and most stressful week. And instead of the pool at Croc Valley we went next door at another lodge with a fancier pool shaped like half a moon. Swimming with view on some giraffes on the other side of the Luangwa river, yet again something we can check off our bucket list.
On Monday we had 3 more days to rehearse before the performance! This was the last day that Mattijs and Danielle joined the rehearsals. The day started off as if it would be a regular rehearsal day but of course we are still in Zambia so that means something unexpected needed to happen. This time it was the car that broke down. While getting the design of the poster scanned and getting printed in color -quite the challenge here in Mfuwe- one of the brakes stopped working. Fortunately Benard from SEKA worked very hard on it and with some help of a local mechanic he got the car working again! But this meant that Benard couldn’t rehearse his plays and as a result the rest finished all most all of the remaining props!
Monday was also the day that everyone met Benard’s cute new puppy! He named him “Benardje” after hearing that it means “mini Benard” in Dutch. He was a lifesaver in reducing the stress of the last days.
The next day the stress rose to the highest level yet! In the morning we had a meeting with the head of the school who apparently was absent the past weeks and we dealt with the replacement head without knowing this; it was a bit awkward when we asked her (the real headmaster) where the headmaster was.There she dropped a huge bomb shell: at the time of our performance on Thursday all the students would already be at home! There had been a miscommunication when the replacement head and deputy head assured us that Thursday at 2 pm was a the right time for the performance. As most students would have their last exam on Wednesday, they would all stay home. We were left with no choice but to reschedule the performance a day earlier, and as it was Tuesday, this would mean that we would have no more extra day left for rehearsing, prop making, costumes and handing out invitations! This all had to be done today!
We then split up our team in 2: one half would stay with SEKA to rehearse as much as possible in the limited time, and the other half would go out and give all the invitations to make sure that everyone would know about the rescheduling and to buy the remaining supplies for the props. After handing out all the invitations to everyone we got to know here in Mfuwe we all went shopping together with SEKA as we still had to buy some costumes!
Driving around Mfuwe we stopped at each clothes merchant we could find. We went through all the piles of clothing in search for the right costumes for each and everyone of the actors. T-shirts, dresses, bras went all flying through the air and we found all the right costumes for all 8 actors!
Later two of us also went out to give an invitation to the chief who we hadn’t seen yet.We planned to his palace -not really a royal palace, more just a regular compound- to give an invitation letter to one of the guards as we had no prearranged appointment with him. Upon arrival there was no one there besides his wife to whom we gave the invitation. It was quite a big surprise when we heard the sound of the chief arriving by car! Our heartbeat went up as we were now very nervous to meet the guy. Especially since it almost never happens that muzungu’s meet the chief; not even Karen from Project Luangwa has met him! And we were there without any backup from SEKA. Fortunately he looked like a very down to earth man with regular clothes. Apart from the big cigar, you couldn’t tell he was the legal equivalent of Don Corleone in Mfuwe.
When you meet the chief you do have to go through some kind of ritual: Before you can speak to the chief you have to kneel down and clap four times and say something in Chinyanja which means “owner of the land”. It sounds something like this: *clap* *clap* pause *clap* *clap* “Yo tchaloo, yo tchaloo, yo tchaloo”. And this you do three times. Besides a few laughs from the chief and his guards we did okay. We then invited him to our play with a nice invitation made of banana paper. To our amazement he told us that he will be attending the performance!
Meanwhile the rest of our team was busy with the final rehearsals and text memorization. There was so little time left as we unexpectedly had to move the performance up that SEKA decided that they would sleep at the plot to have as much time as possible to learn their lines. They really wanted to make the performance the best they could! But as we only had a few hours left of sunlight before the actors couldn’t read the scripts we had to go out and get some battery-powered lights from our tents as there was no electricity on the plot.
When we went back to Croc Valley to sleep, nature had another surprise for us. While driving through the dark we had to stop in the middle of the road in complete darkness besides the headlights of the car. Before stood an elephant who wouldn’t move. And worse: this was still a young elephant, which meant that the mother would be close by! Sitting in the open back of the truck we searched around with our torches to find the missing larger elephant. It really felt like a scene in Jurassic Park! Fair enough, we weren’t looking out for a T-Rex or a bunch of raptors, but a mother elephant trying to protect her child does come pretty close!
Finally the baby elephant in front us decided to move and we could drive on. So much extra stress was probably the last thing we needed the evening before the performance.
The next day we woke up very excited, but mainly extremely stressed out for the performance. Everything until now led up to this day!
We planned to go immediately back to the plot for the final rehearsal. As always we first had to push our truck to get him to start. At the plot we had the last rehearsal before the repetition with all the props and costumes in place. It was clear that everyone was a bit stressed as some small lines were forgotten and costume changes weren’t that fluently as possible. But it was mostly small mistakes so nothing to worry too much about.
After another meal with Nshima; we loaded everything up in the SEKA-truck and set out to the Mfuwe Day Secondary School. On the way through the village we drove slowly as SEKA played on the drums and letting the whole town know that a SEKA-performance was about to take place.
During the parade with the drums we saw a lot of people next to the road. In fact we have never seen so many people in Mfuwe. But there was one big problem; they were all going the wrong way! Through a very unhappy coincidence the president decided to visit Mfuwe that same day. And as the election was coming up next week, all the people went to see him. Our morale got lower and lower as we got closer and closer to the school away from the huge crowds. And when we reached the school it sunk the lowest as there were almost no students on the playground!
The performance was planned to start in less than an hour but there was almost no one there! As we were together with SEKA discussing that we should maybe cancel the performance and do it another day someplace else, the teachers and people from the school assured us that there would be people there and that the students were just taking exams. We then decided to push through with the performance so that at least the writing students could see their own play being performed.
As we got closer and closer to the start of “Grow Up!”, a crowd started to gather. In the end we got a crowd of a couple of hundreds of people! (The exact number is hard to guess) . We also noticed all the people we invited showing up; Karen and Fwilani from Project Luangwa, Eunice from Chipembele, Katie and Stephanie from Croc Valley, the list goes on!
Finally the performance started! To give a whole account of the performance won’t do it justice. It suffices to say that sometimes everything just comes together in a perfect way. The actors gave the best performance we could have hoped for; no one forgot a single line, all the music students followed their cues right on time, the audience was very enthusiastic, the writing students were nervously grinning while watching their own play. All our worries went away. Apart from some very minor flaws that almost no one noticed everything went perfect!
There was one weird moment when it was time for Calvin’s monologue written by Harrison. He waited to start and everyone went quiet and the atmosphere became thicker. Our team didn’t know what was happening until we saw the cause of the confusion: The Honorable Chief Kakumbi had arrived! Esther frantically ran for a chair for him to sit on and we got on with the performance.
There was a nice balance between some serious plays like the one of Violet Zulu about a young mother who had to sell her baby out of desperation where the crowd went silent and some lighter ones such as written by Idah where an old man tries to seduce a beautiful girl by using some magic tricks. We also held our breath for the reactions to the play of Specia Banda where a giant condom went flying right through the air. Luckily the crowd erupted in laughter and our heart rate went down again.
The last monologue “Both equal and strong” written by Rachael summed up perfectly “Grow Up!”. During the ending song the crowd joined in the dancing and even the Chief danced along! You have to keep in mind that this is one of the most important men of Mfuwe, permanently accompanied by bodyguards and his cigar.
In the aftermath of the performance everyone was very enthusiastic and wanted us to come back as soon as we could. It was more than we could have hoped for. We celebrated afterwards together with SEKA.
The next day we planned a big party for SEKA and all the people who participated in the project. We held a big “braai”: a South-African style barbecue. It was a welcome relaxing day after all the stress from the past weeks. We played some music, ate some nshima, drank some beer but mostly we relaxed. In the evening we played “Werewolves” around the campfire. Most of the team also brought their tents with them to spend the night on the SEKA plot. To keep the elephants from stepping on the tents, Calvin from SEKA was so sweet to keep sure that fire stayed on during the night!
The next day a part of our team had a few exciting meetings with Karen from Project Luangwa and with a new committee in the school about theatre writing. Everyone was so enthusiastic about the performance and about our project that they wanted us to come back as soon as possible. Many exciting things are in the pipeline regarding the future of StudioZambia! The project will definitely continue next summer! What exactly will happen is up to the new project team under guidance from Annoek and Esther. At the end of afternoon we had one last, but very special meeting: an official one with the Chief! This time we were all better prepared. The Chief was a big fan of the performance and wanted to thank us for the project. He liked it so much that he even said -multiple times- that he wanted us to come back not next year, but next month!
The 6th of August was our final day in Mfuwe. We decided that we wanted to enjoy the amazing wildlife once more and went on a safari by ourselves to the South Luangwa National Park. Once in the park on a small road we were chased by a huge elephant and we had to drive away from him in reverse. We waited a few times to ensure that the elephant would be far enough away and we had even another car pass us while laughing at us, but each time we moved forward the elephant came at us! He really wanted us to leave that area.
Further in the park we had another adventure. While we were casually driving along, the road suddenly went in to a dry riverbed and we drove our truck right in to the sand. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem as the truck was 4 wheel drive, but our truck wasn’t exactly brand new so that didn’t work. Attempts to dig the truck out by ourselves were futile. And our desperation culminated as the battery of our cellphone died. But before any hungry wild animals tracked us down, help showed up to pull us out.
As ending to our final day we had one last drink with our best friends from Zambia: the actors of SEKA! How we dreaded saying goodbye to Calvin, Benard, Simon, George, Sarah, Levi, Sams and Rogers. They gave us such a warm welcome to Zambia. And over the course of our stay came really good friends with us. They taught us so much about the Zambian way of life. The most important thing was ‘Pamodzi’ which means ‘Together’. You are not alone and you have friends who can count on each other.
The same night we took the bus back to Lusaka. Calvin even stayed awake to make sure we got on safely! As the bus drove away we said goodbye to Mfuwe and SEKA witha very heavy heart.
After another tiresome journey, with no real adventures like the last time, we arrived the next day in Lusaka. We immediately noticed the difference between Lusaka and Mfuwe. The quiet place with dusty roads and small shops had traded place for large boulevards with advertisement boards and traffic jams. We spent our last day in Zambia relaxing and strolling around Lusaka.
Monday the 8th of August we took the plane home. And as usual Zambia had again something unexpected for us in store. At the airport of Lusaka we were all stopped by the border guards: it turned out that we had unknowingly overstayed our visas! They told us that this was a capital offense with a possible fine up to 4000 Kwacha per person! (about 400 euros if you’re not familiar with the Zambian currency). After a few agonizing minutes where they told us to step aside and wait for the supervisor, they let us off easy with just a stern warning. Even in the very last moments of our stay in Zambia so much almost went wrong. It was almost the most fitting way to say goodbye to Zambia, (I say almost because naturally we would have liked for everything to go smoothly).
We stepped on the plane a bit tired but mostly satisfied with the immense success of our project!
Zikomo kwambiri for reading our blog! We hope you enjoyed it. There are many more stories that haven’t been told here, but we feel that this gives a good idea of everything that happened. We also very much look forward to the adventures of the new StudioZambia team. Our best wishes to them and we hope that they will have an experience as amazing as ours!
David, Esther, Annoek and Anke!