Saturday, 14 May 2011

Mokoros and mushrooms

Bovu Island, Zambezi River, Zambia
“Tell him about the dust” Brett hissed as I stood in his wooden stilt hut, the Zambezi River pulsing by outside the chicken mesh windows. I had a satellite signal booster pinned to my mobile phone, the phone itself clamped to my ear, and a sense of the surreal swirling around me like the eddies in the river.  "Oh yes, and there was lots of dust Dad” I added, keen not to offend the sense of self-imposed responsibility Brett had assumed for me phoning my father. “Um, anyway, I’ll try to call again soon, hope you pick this up okay, see ya”.  Pressing cancel on the phone I wondered if maybe I should have signed off the answerphone message with the instruction to “triangulate these coordinates and send help”.
The man himself
Brett is the manager of a wilderness retreat called Jungle Junction that is located on Bovu Island in the middle of the Zambezi River, accessible only by mokoro – the wooden dugout canoes that have ploughed this river for centuries.  Much beloved by hippies who, over the years, have come for a few days and stayed for months, Brett is the resident hippie-in-chief who takes his responsibility to the local community almost as seriously as he does to the steady consumption of magic mushrooms.  I liked him a lot, and tried hard (but largely failed) to construct a cogent narrative between what was going on in his brain and what actually came out of his mouth.   His insistence that I phone my father, apropos of nothing at all, as we sat sharing a lunchtime beer was, I figured, just the public airing of a Disney family movie that was playing in his mind.  And why not? Making a mental deal with myself I agreed that I would sink into this surreal world for a couple of days but if the word ‘dude’ ever escaped from my lips I was on the first mokoro out of there.
The dust Brett was so insistent on me mentioning on the answerphone message referred to a task we’d agreed to complete as a fair’s fair favour in return for him cutting us a great deal on the accommodation costs.  Jungle Junction have committed to building a school for the local community who live on the banks of the Zambezi, just across from the island, which will remove the need for the children to walk the 12km round trip to the current nearest school as they do now.  Our task was to sweep out the partially constructed shell, removing the cocktail of construction dust and goat droppings.  We were, of course, happy to do this but as is often the case in Africa one needs to think carefully before acting in a benevolent, and seemingly consequence free, manner.  This school is being funded (to the tune of $250,000) by donations made to Jungle Junction from ex-visitors, but the school itself belongs to, and is the responsibility of, the local community.  So, one must really ask the question that if the local community can’t be arsed to sweep it out then why the hell should a random group of tourists?  Paul Theroux, in his majestic book about Africa, Dark Star Safari, repeatedly returns to a broader version of this simple question about the efficacy of international aid, and I paraphrase – ‘if they can’t be bothered then why should we be bothered’?  If a doctor leaves her aid-reliant nation to work in the developed world then why does the developed world replace that doctor?  If a headmaster fiddles the books at his school then why should there be a constant stream of volunteer teachers?  The questions go on and on, but as I’ve already written about the phenomena of entitlement and expectation, you can probably guess which side I fall on in this debate.
100 kwatcha per millilitre kids
The compromise we made was that we would sweep the school provided we were accompanied by a troop of local children.  So liked pied pipers we gathered a dust-busting squad and set to work, sweeping out the school and gathering a week’s worth of black bogies.  As it turns out it is not just Kenyan children who find the concept of body hair fascinating.  Unbeknownst to me at the time there was quite a gathering behind my back as I swept and sweated with my t-shirt wrapped around my mouth and nose, bandito style.  One little girl, it transpires, traced  her finger around the hair on my lower back before rubbing both hands into the sweaty mess and then rubbing it all over her own body.  Weird, I know.  And before you ask, no, I wasn’t sharing Brett’s mushrooms.  But I figure that if Beyoncé can bottle her own drippings and make millions then there is surely a gap in the market for a l’eau de Chewbacca (Tagline = makes you feel grrrrrrrrrrrrrr).  That is how celebrity perfume making works, right?  Because if not I’m chucking away this bottle of Shakira’s newest excretion that I bought for Helen.    
Anyway, Brett will be happy.  I told my Dad about the dust, and now I’ve told you too.  Anyone need a shower?

<2,000!  I’m sure this will not be nearly as exciting for you as it is for me, but the blog has passed the 2,000 page views mark.  I’m just delighted by this and would like to thank you all for stopping by to read the vomit I spew onto my keyboard every so often.  I really am grateful.  I do enjoy reading your comments, and it fascinates me to know who is actually making all these page views.  So, why not leave a comment to say hi – post it as ‘anonymous’ in the drop down box if you can’t be bothered signing up for a Google ID , and just stick your name at the end.  It would be great to know who is staring back at me from the abyss. 
And a special thank you again to those of you who have become followers – family, old friends, and new friends.  I know it’s a hassle to sign up to be a follower, with little reward, but if it makes you feel any better I do lovingly stroke my cursor across your little thumbnails every time I go into the blog while muttering to myself ‘ooh yeh, you’re my favourites, that feels good, like that little stroke do you? NOW OBEY ME FOLLOWER’!  Anyone else want to sign up? You know you’ll love it!>  

1 comment:

  1. This is Dad trying again to post a comment.
    This is Mum having just read the latest blog, very, very funny, but not sure I will be buying that scent anytime soon!