Flies, rain and an intimation of tribal tribulations

I wake to clanging and crashing. Turns out it’s our shower, a bucket pulled from the well, the water heated on the range. Feels odd, a bucket shower in the rain.

Sierra Exif JPEGTwo pairs of black Dunlops have appeared by the tent opening. I turn mine upside down, shake them to dislodge anything nasty, then step out and take my first look at the landscape. It’s flat, wet and green. Perky stems of yellow-hot-poker alleviate the monotony.Sierra Exif JPEG

I’m quite enjoying breakfast, despite the odd tasting tea (because of the odd tasting water), when we hit the first major worry of the day.

They have no idea why we’re here.

‘But the man from the bat place said everything would be ready for us,’ says anthro-man.

[I’m not surprised. I haven’t met the bat man yet, that pleasure lies in store, but he did say there’d be no problem driving here, this rainy time of year. His star’s not riding high with me, so far.]

So. We don’t have the Chief’s permission to do the DNA sampling. There won’t be thirty people from the BaTwa tribe queuing up to spit into little tubes. Not today, not tomorrow, not the next day. And that’s the reason we’re here – to ask people to spit into little tubes so other people in Germany can analyse it and tell anthro-man what their origins might be.

We have three days to make it happen. Bit like Time Team. But more serious. And without a TV crew.

Edwin, a kind, gentle and religious man, volunteers to help us.

Our first task is to track down Marjorie – her grandfather’s the Chief whose permission we need. We’ve brought him a blue and white teapot and mugs from Lewis’s of Liverpool. We should have brought tea and sugar, too, I realise. Too late.

The Land Rover proves reluctant, but eventually we cajole her out onto the flood plains again. In the welcome daylight (and less welcome rain) I spot a couple of tiny brick-built thatched huts, each just one square room, with wood smoke rising from their roofs.

Edwin’s family – wife, daughter and very new baby – live in one of these cramped, smoky dwellings. He’s anxious. Their last baby died of malaria.

a light day for flies

it was covered in these a minute ago – they’ll be back soon

We follow submerged tyre tracks across the plain. It’s easier at first by day, but soon it’s hard to see through the black veil covering the windows. It’s made of flies. They ride with the herds of Black Lechwe which cantered around us last night. And now, with us.

We’re approaching the first settlement when we see a small-ish man, with a crumpled-looking face, wearing an anorak, hat and the requisite Dunlops.

Edwin tells us to stop. This man is both useful and necessary. He’s a community leader and – we are told – a member of the BaTwa tribe. But he denies it.

Hmmm. We explain what we’re here for. He shakes his head.

All in all, it’s not looking good.

But he promises to tell the community, to seek volunteers, to meet us with them next day – if the Chief approves.

Things start looking up after that. We find Marjorie, visit Chief Chiundaponde and his wife and hand over the gifts. The Chief offers us his retainer’s help – he’ll come back with us, stay the night in the settlement and help recruit support.

We stop by the retainer’s village so he can pick up his things. My need to pee becomes too strong to ignore (that tea). I have no choice but to brave the village latrine, up a slope beyond the huts. My clumsy boots sink into the mud either side of the hole. I try and scuff it up to repair the damage and make it worse.

I leave feeling guilty – and clumsy. But at least I won’t be back – and it’s another milestone. Me, the sensitive girl from the suburbs. Using a communal long-drop loo. In a traditional African village. In the swamps of northern Zambia.  In the rain.

It feels like someone else’s life.

But it’s not.

Next time: I eat something I shouldn’t, we attempt to do our DNA testing,   we meet Edwin’s family

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