There was an old woman who swallowed a fly (well, not that old, actually)

BaTwa fisherman, maybe

It’s not the best way to start a day. I really don’t recommend it. In fact I’m trying to avoid writing about it. But I can’t.

We’re driving round a bend between two huts. I open the window and say something – I’ve no idea what, the fly puts everything out of my mind.

It tastes vile. Imagine concentrated greenness with added bitterness. Lots of bitterness. So bitter it feels like your mouth has dried up and your throat has shut. I try to spit it out but it’s too late. I drink water but it makes no difference to the hideousness of the taste. Eeeurgh.

We’re slithering and sliding, on and off the track. For twenty three hours it’s been raining non-stop. Crossing the floodplain was scary, even Edwin seemed anxious.

We reach a little group of huts that the village built for eco-tourists. I don’t know how many pass this way but it doesn’t look like it’s changed their fortunes. Who suggested it? They must be disappointed. Angry, even. I put it out of my mind.

Contrary to custom, I’m offered a chair at the table with the men. Through the ‘window’ – a hole in the side of the hut – I watch a woman drag a tree trunk across the space in front of us to make a fire.

I have a feeling the sampling’s not going to take us long. Despite the best endeavours of the Chief’s retainer there’s no queue of volunteers.

There are ethical guidelines for taking DNA samples. We follow them. I ask the first man’s tribe but not his name. ‘Bemba,’ he says. Or maybe, ‘Tonga.’

It doesn’t matter. It’s not BaTwa.

Four samples later and only one admits to BaTwa.

Now, please don’t be annoyed at what I’m about to write – I’m just reporting what I hear.

Ask Zambians about the BaTwa and they usually laugh. Often they hide their faces with their hands. So then you ask, why?

‘Ah! They are dirty.’ ‘Thieving.’ ‘They sleep with their sisters.’

It’s no surprise, then, that even among their friends and neighbours these people won’t admit what’s plainly true – they’re from the most despised tribe in the country.

Despondency sets in. Four samples and we need thirty.

Community leader takes anthro-man outside. They come back looking serious. Anthro-man passes me a note.

‘Don’t use the term BaTwa.’

I can see he’s reaching the end of his tether.

Outside the woman’s been scrubbing dishes in a bucket of water.  Now she’s cooking something on the fire. I have a feeling it’s for us. I hope it’s not mice, or chicken gizzards – Zambian delicacies I haven’t yet tried.

With relief I see it’s just rice. We each receive a tin plate and a bowl of sugar’s passed around to sprinkle on it. There’s weak tea with strong water – not whisky, just the strong-tasting water from the well (that we shouldn’t really drink).

I eat. I drink. I worry. One of the tubes of spit looks really bad, sort of grey.

We make our farewells and Edwin leads us back across the lake that’s growing on the floodplain. He wants us to visit his wife and baby.

Edwin, his wife, baby, daughter (and her friend) outside their one room home

Edwin, his wife, baby, daughter (and her friend) outside their one room home

I step into the tiny hut and my worries evaporate. This woman gave birth a few days ago. Their only furniture is a rudimentary bed and plain wooden bench. A knotted mosquito net hangs from the thatch. Mrs Edwin’s smile is radiant, she’s proud of her new infant – and her daughter.

As we make to leave I remember we have a packet of biscuits. I hand the lemon creams to Edwin’s daughter. She screams with delight.

I’m ashamed of myself. To have so much – and fear so much.

That night we agree it can’t go on. We’re not going to succeed in two – or three – or four more days.

And still the rain falls.

Next time: driving a fast flowing track, our lucky charm, meeting the bat man, New Year’s eve

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