Livingstone (Family Vacation Part 1)


Reading this week:

  • Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Since I’m really a bit over a year into this whole Zambia thing, and it is summer vacation back in America, my family came to visit me and see what I do here. It was quite a little adventure.

The first major thing we did on the vacation was to go visit Livingstone. I suppose you can’t really come all the way to Zambia without visiting Livingstone. Plus, I figured Livingstone was probably a pretty good way to ease the family into the whole concept of Zambia. My family is actually a relatively experienced bunch of travelers, with my dad’s family having lived in several developing nations in his youth. Still, Zambia is an experience.

The vacation was with quite a group. The total list of people was both my parents, my brother, my grandma, my aunt and uncle, and my cousin Judy, and when you include me that is eight people rolling around Zambia. Later on, my girlfriend Lily joined us bringing the total to nine. To get all those people around we first rented a giant van, and then later two smaller 4x4s. The part I was most excited about when it came to this vacation was seeing people who hadn’t been to the country before interact with Zambia. Lemme tell ya, that involved a lot of complaining about roads.


But besides the roads the family really enjoyed Livingstone. One of the first things we did was see the falls of course. I had been before, but during low water, and while it wasn’t quite high water when we were there, there was a lot of water. They rented ponchos at the falls which mom took advantage of, but I depended on my safari jacket alone.


The most impressive traveler on the trip was my grandma, who I didn’t mention is 92. I was worried about her getting around but she had her walking shoes on and wound up doing everything we did on the vacation (well except for a Zambezi River “float,” but that was only because the seats on the raft didn’t have any backs; she enjoyed herself anyways).


One of the themes of this vacation was me dragging my family off to see things I normally wouldn’t be able to see, because they’re slightly off the beaten path and I don’t have a car here. The thing in Livingstone in this category was the Big Baobab Tree. This tree is apparently somewhere between 1000-2000 years old and the big attraction here is that it has stairs leading to a platform at the top. From the platform you can see the “smoke” from the falls and have a pretty good panorama of the surrounding areas. Worth a visit!

Badass Corn Husker


Reading this week:

  • The Barefoot Architect by Johan van Lengen
  • Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

So this is one of the coolest pieces of appropriate technology I’ve seen in a while: a home-made diesel-powered high-speed corn husking machine. The guy who built it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite farmers. He lives up the valley from me and until recently I didn’t know how awesome his setup was. He came to my attention because he built some beehives and wanted me to take a look at them. He had heard I had been to the beekeeping workshop, but since I wasn’t around for a while he had gotten all the advice he needed from my counterpart. Development complete, let me tell ya. While we were there looking at the beehives, it turns out he had also just dug a fish pond. We went to go stock the fish pond today, and then he decided to show us his super awesome corn husker.


He took that beehive to the District Agricultural Show and won 80 kwatcha!

This dude is a pretty nifty engineer. He has a hand-cranked Chinese diesel engine that he can move around and hook up to a few different belt-driven machines on his property. The diesel is normally used for his hammer mill where he grinds up maize, but he also has a grinder for metal fabrication and who knows what else really. He also dug a pit that he can drive his car over to work on it (“costs 35 kwatcha in town,” he tells me) and the first time I met him he was working on a rifle.

The corn husker is not an exercise in subtlety. It is housed in an oil drum and has a feeder funnel welded onto the top of it. Going through the oil drum he has placed a very heavy-duty metal rod suspended on bearings that appear to be rescued from a car. The metal rod has spokes coming off of it, and below the spoked metal rod is a grating. As the corn cobs are fed in the top, they are simply beat mercilessly by the belt-driven spoked metal rod. The cobs flail around inside the husker, losing their kernels. The kernels drop through the metal grating while the corn husks get pushed towards the end by the additional corn cobs being dropped in the top. One person tends the corn husk discharge chute, keeping an appropriate back-pressure of corn husks and feeding not fully-husked, um, husks back in the top for another run-through.


The last thing the corn cob sees before being violently husked.

The whole thing was fantastic to watch and fantastically loud (hearing protection, alas, is not really a thing in this country, and least in the rural areas). The thing is certainly fast; most people do this by hand and the only other appropriate tech I’ve seen for this problem is a little metal die thing to make it easier to husk by hand. It is a four-person operation: one guy is tending the engine, another is feeding in corn cobs, the third is tending the corn husk discharge chute to keep the system operating well, and the fourth is shoveling corn kernels away from the kernel discharge chute. Cobs go in, cobs fly out the top, cobs spill out the end, kernels fall out in heaps. It’s pretty awesome.


I was really amazed to see what people can do when they have a problem they want to solve. The farmer there built it himself, and also appears to have come up with the idea himself. I asked if he had seen other people with something similar and he didn’t say he had. He’s not the first guy to invent a corn husker but he might be the first to build one out of car parts, an oil drum, and a Chinese diesel.

Contested Succession of Senior Chief Tafuna


Sorry it is a crappy picture.

Reading this week:

  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
  • Dhow Cultures of the Indian Ocean by Abdul Sheriff (extremely illuminating)

So here is a story I only really recently dived into concerning the succession of Senior Chief Tafuna. If I haven’t mentioned the role of traditional leaders before, the traditional system of government is still very much in place. The Chiefs of Zambia are officially recognized by the government, and hold office in the House of Chiefs, which advises the government. In addition, Chiefs get a stipend from the government and act as an intermediary between the people in their chiefdoms and the government. In addition to those powers granted by the government, the Chiefs hold very real traditional power in their chiefdoms. People seek them out to settle disputes, Chiefs appoint village headmen which run the villages, Chiefs have a large role in land management and apportioning land use to different people, and command the respect of the people of Zambia. The power of Chiefs isn’t limited to the village; I have seen educated city-slickers get nervous in the presence of a Chief. And between the government stipend and the gifts people are required to bring to the Chief when visiting or asking him (or her!) to settle disputes, being a Chief can be a pretty lucrative gig.

This story begins in July of 2013, when the previous Senior Chief Tafuna died. As can be seen in the top diagram, Senior Chief Tafuna is the senior-most traditional leader among the Lungu people (I live in a Lungu village). Besides the fact that dying left the role of Senior Chief open, even the decision about where to bury the late Senior Chief caused contention, with one group objecting to burying him among the previous Senior Chiefs. Since he didn’t complete all of the traditional ceremonies when he was elected 45 years previously, they held he wasn’t really the Senior Chief.

Though the previous Senior Chief Tafuna died in July of 2013, it wasn’t until November of that year that the Lungu Royal Establishment elected a new Senior Chief Tafuna. I’ll note at this point that the names sometimes get confusing, because the name of the Chief is linked to the job, ie, although (in this case) Rafael Sikazwe Chipampe is elected, he is then known as Senior Chief Tafuna. The news articles from the election noted that there may have been some contention about who get elected Chief, but it was only the faintest of foreshadowing of what would happen next.

The first real grumbles of trouble came about a year later, when Chief Chitosi started to say that Rafael Chipampe (aka the elected Senior Chief Tafuna) was elected improperly. Without much detail, he complained that the Lungu chiefs did not follow the right channels in electing the new Senior Chief, and therefore Rafael Chipampe was not a legitimate Senior Chief. Meanwhile, the other Chiefs were saying to not entertain anyone other than Rafael Chipampe claiming to be Senior Chief Tafuna.

The crises became acute, however, when the government officially recognized Ben Mukupa Kaoma (aka Chief Mukupa) as the new Senior Chief Tafuna in 2016. This was contrary to the wishes of the Lungu Royal Establishment. Nonetheless, Chief Ben Mukupa Kaoma proceeded to Isoko (near Mpulungu) to assume the throne at the palace of Senior Chief Tafuna. This incensed Raphael Chipampe Sikazwe, the elected and acting Senior Chief Tafuna. This prompted Raphael Sikazwe to lead an angry mob which murdered Chief Ben Mukupa Kaoma.

As a suspect in a murder case, Raphael Sikazwe, acting Senior Chief Tafuna, went on the run. He eventually turned himself in. Although he plead not guilty to the crime, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Since then, the succession dispute has not been resolved.

This story interested me at first because of its own proximity on my life; when I first showed up to the village I had heard that our Chief was “in exile” but I didn’t really ask more questions than that. When I saw the story about “Senior Chief Tafuna sentenced to death” I took a closer look. Between the witchcraft stories and succession disputes over thrones, I am always vaguely amazed at the Game of Thrones sort of stuff that goes on around here. On the other hand, the number of people that died over this is very sad, but goes to show the influence that traditional leaders still have here in Zambia and the lengths people will go to in order to get these roles.

HIV Football Tournament

Reading this week:

  • Left Bank by Agnès Poirier

This past weekend I helped out at another volunteer’s HIV Football Tournament. This program was put on by Mel, and I attended to pick up any lessons I could about maybe running a similar event in my village. Overall it was a lot of fun and a lot of people got tested for HIV and learned about HIV prevention.

The event I attended was actually the culminating day of a series of football matches. It was the final match between the last two teams in the tournament. There were a total of six teams at the beginning of the tournament. Part of Mel’s rules to be able to play in the tournament is that you had to get tested for HIV. Although she plans to host a net ball tournament next year, she was focusing on men as her target demographic and football is a great way to get men interested in HIV. Throughout the course of the tournament, she also arranged to have testing available at the games, so she wound up getting 105 people tested, which is a pretty awesome accomplishment!

The arts group struts their stuff.

As the day of the finals dawned, we were a little worried because we found out morning of that the Chief’s daughter was getting married that same day. We were pretty worried that the wedding would depress turnout at the event, and towards the beginning of the event our fear seemed justified because the crowd was pretty small. Luckily though, Mel had arranged to have an arts group from Kasama come to perform at the event. Their main role was to put on a skit about HIV stigma and prevention, but they also did several dance performances. This was very useful for literally drumming up a crowd. As the arts group started to perform, people began to filter into the event from the surrounding areas and the local market, so before long there was a pretty large crowd.

Mel teaching about HIV & gender.

After the first dance we broke into two groups to teach about HIV. Putra and Thomas, the other two volunteers that came to help, took the younger part of the crowd and taught a GRS lesson about how ARVs work to protect the body from HIV. Mel and I took the older part of the crowd and talked about HIV and gender. The physical differences between men and women, along with the different cultural expectations between men and women affect their likelihood of getting the virus. Those topics aren’t really any different here in Zambia than the are back in the USA. One of the major points I talked about during the discussion is the fact that women with a lot of sexual partners are seen as promiscuous, while men with a lot of sexual partners are seen as manly. That means men can be a vector for HIV, as they spread it among their multiple partners. We try to emphasize that the best thing to do, if you choose to be sexually active, is to have one mutually faithful partner and to both get tested for STIs regularly.

After the lessons there was more dancing, and then lunch, and then we convened for the big event. Watching the football match was a lot of fun. There must have been hundreds of people watching. Not only was the football match probably the most interesting thing going on during a Saturday afternoon, but the stakes were pretty high because as part of the tournament Mel was offering prize money. The crowd was really into it. It was a little sad for us, because the team we were rooting for (the team one of Mel’s friends was playing on) lost 0-3, but the crowd brought a lot of energy. Whenever the other team scored the whole crowd would rush onto the field and run around before clearing out in about a minute to let the game continue. When the game was finally over the whole crowd paraded the winning team around the field and then back to Mel so she could award the prizes and thank everyone for coming.

After the game we filtered back to Mel’s place and cooked dinner. I had a really great time at the game and I think it was pretty awesome l how many people Mel got tested and taught about HIV. People had a lot of fun and I was glad to be part of it!


Peak tourist.

Reading this week:

  • An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
  • An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (this one took a bit; it gets a little dry in the middle)

Since we’re halfway through our Peace Corps service, and to see more of Africa, my girlfriend and I took a vacation to Zanzibar. Going to Zanzibar is a pretty standard vacation for Peace Corps Zambia volunteers because there is a train that goes to Dar Es Salaam, and between there and Zanzibar it is an easy ferry ride.

Taking the train to Dar Es Salaam was pretty interesting. The only bad part about it was that it wound up being about 30 hours behind schedule by the time we got to Dar. But taking a train any distance was a new experience for the both of us, and the country we were traveling through is very pretty. We passed through mountains on the train, and then as we descended towards sea level things got more tropical. I spent a lot of time staring out the window, just checking out people’s gardens by the side of the track and taking in the big mountains and waterfalls you could see from the train. At one point the
train passes through the Selous Game Reserve, and from the train we saw giraffe, wildebeest, and baboons, so that was really cool.

We arrived in Dar in the late afternoon and spent the night there so we could catch the ferry the next morning. Dar is a really impressive city coming from Zambia, and we ventured out to get some dinner after we had settled into the hotel. It was Ramadan when we were visiting, so after dark there was a lot of food and activity. The next morning we got on the ferry and that was a pretty smooth experience. The ferry ride takes about two hours to Zanzibar and I was having a grand ole’ time checking out all the dhows sailing around and just enjoying being on the ocean again. After arriving in Zanzibar we walked to our lodge and after settling in there we head out to explore Stone Town.

Stone Town is the big city on Zanzibar. I really enjoyed walking around there. It is a very old city, having been the main port of the major center of trade that was Zanzibar. It is comprised of a lot of
narrow, winding alleyways filled with shops. Most of the shops were pretty touristy, but I still enjoyed taking in all the sights. One of the things I liked the best about it was the (I spent some time trying to avoid a cliché here to no avail) contrast between old and new in the harbor. You had these modern port facilities with a container ship unloading and a high-speed ferry docking and in between them dhows zooming around. When I woke up early in the morning and looked into the harbor there were guys paddling canoes in between a barge and a luxury yacht. There were also a whole lot of cats.

As for sights in Stone Town, the only real like sights sights we went to were the Sultan’s Palace Museum and the Slave Museum. The Palace Museum was pretty neat. It has a small but nice array of artifacts from Zanzibar’s heyday as a center for global trade under a sultanate. That same sultanate lasted until the ’60s when it was overthrown by the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar which still rules, which I only mention because that is an awesome name for a government. The museum also had some sweet carved chairs I was really jealous of. Oh, unrelated, but kinda nearby is the site of the old British consulate where Livingstone’s body passed through after he died near the Bangwelu Swamps.

The Slave Museum is on the current site of an Anglican church but on the former site of one of Zanzibar’s slave yards. Zanzibar’s major export back in the 1800s were slaves. The museum has a very informative display about Zanzibar’s role in the East Africa slave trade. They captured slaves pretty far into Africa, including where I live now here in Zambia. Part of the reason the London Missionary Society was in the area was to help halt the slave trade. Besides the displays, at the museum you can visit the dungeon/holding cell where they kept slaves while they were waiting to be sold, and a monument to the slaves that worked on Zanzibar or passed through the slave markets.

Slave memorial.

After two full days in Stone Town, we took a taxi over to the other side of the island to a lodge in Bweju. This was the beach portion of the vacation. The area over on the east side of the island is really popular for kite surfing, and we kinda did our math wrong because kite surfing weather isn’t really beach bumming weather. But still we were at a great lodge and we largely had the beach to ourselves.

I was interested in driving through the island to check out everyone’s gardens. Zanzibar is a lot more tropical than Zambia, but there were still a lot of similarities. I saw a lot of cassava being grown and even one field of maize. We passed through a large number of rice fields, and there were cows everywhere. What I was most excited about was my latest obsession, cocoyam (aka taro). Cocoyam was pretty popular on the island, and commonly intercropped with banana, which is pretty much the definition of tropical paradise. Besides these, Zanzibar had many different kinds of fruit trees (mango, coconut, banana, oranges, guava, breadfruit, star fruit, and so many more) and of course spices.

Man climbing a tree to get us a coconut. He also sang.

The big touristy thing we did while we were over in Bweju was go on a spice tour. Besides its history with slaves, Zanzibar is also famous for its spices. The spice trade was a major driver of the slave trade, with slaves being used to harvest labor-intensive spices like cloves. The spice tour we went on was at one of many small spice farms that specialize in these sorts of tours, and we saw a large variety of spices being grown. We saw vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, uh, and such a bewildering array of other spices I can’t remember them all. This experience was kind of peak touristy, but we were into it. We saw the spices, a man climbed up a tree to get us a coconut, we were fed a variety of tropical fruits, and had the opportunity to buy spices to woo our friends and families. They also made us sweet hats.