Northern Tourism Expo

This week as I was in Kasama to have Thanksgiving dinner, I also went to the Northern Province Tourism & Investment Expo. This is an event being held in tandem with the centenary commemoration taking place in Mbala to mark 100 years since the end of WWI in Africa.

I was pretty excited to go to the expo to see what all they had. I couldn’t really muster up any enthusiasm from anyone else to go, but I managed to drag my friend Noah there. He’s glad he went! I had high hopes for the expo because I had high hopes for Northern Province; this expo is supposed to attract a lot of development and investment to the province so I was rooting for its success. Frankly I was worried it was going to be a slightly larger district show, with booths made out of grass and sticks and people displaying beans. Many people did display beans but the whole expo was really big and really amazing.

At the expo there were several very large tents filled with booths like any other expo you would go to. There was a healthy mix of different things being displayed. In the photo above are the different district booths, where different districts showed off their wares. I was surprised to find out there are gold deposits in Northern Province, and one booth had a demonstration of traditional salt making processes. There was locally processed palm oil and other agricultural products (those beans) and it was cool to see how much stuff is up here.

Besides booths for the district, there were booths for different business that operate up here in Northern. Noah and I, both being RAP volunteers, were interested in a lot of the aquaculture stuff. Above is a picture of a mobile hatchery that was at a booth manned by one of our RAP technical instructors, so that was cool. Everyone at the expo was pretty enthusiastic about talking to us, despite just being two schmucks wandering around. We got whole in-depth explanations of how the local water purification process works from the Chambeshi Water & Sewage Company, and the government’s Weights & Measurement and Consumer Protection Bureaus gave us run-downs of everything they do.

A booth from the Ministry of Tourism & Arts demonstrating the wildlife of Northern and showing the seized possessions of poachers.

Walking around the expo we picked up a lot of literature people were excited to hand us, and we both bought some really sweet matching shirts from the Ministry of Tourism booth. I’m excited to wear it to the Centenary Celebration. I think the expo did a really great job of showing all the tourism and investment opportunities here in Northern, and the organizers must have worked really hard to make sure the thing went off so well. I really hope it brings a lot of investment to this province, which could really use it. But the opportunities are here!

Kasanka Bat Migration


Reading this week

  • The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi (I meant to take more than a day on this one)

This past weekend my girlfriend and I went to go see the Bat Migration at Kasanka National Park. The bat migration is the largest mammal migration on the planet. So it is very worth going to. The bats of the bat migration are the straw-colored fruit bat. They come from all over Western Africa (not just the DRC, according to our guide) to feed on the musuku fruits that abound near Kasanka at this time of year. Somewhere in the range of 8-12 million bats all gather in the park. The most remarkable part of it all is that all those bats choose to roost every day in a very small portion of the forest in the park, only about 1km long by 400m wide. So every day in the morning and in the evening the bats all return to and fly out from the same patch of forest, giving a hell of a show.

Most volunteers when they go to see the bats choose to camp, but I decided to splurge and stay in the lodge for two nights. It was a pretty nice experience. The meals were included and we got some extra activities thrown in. We arrived on Friday in time for lunch. Wasa Lodge, the lodge we stayed at, is right on Wasa Lake, which is a small lake about 12km into the park. Besides the bats, Kasanka is known for its wide variety of birds and for its sitatunga. The lodge being right on the lake gives a good opportunity to see both, especially from the porch of our chalet or from the dining area.


A sitatunga pokes its head above the grass by Lake Wasa.

That evening we went on a Wasa Walk, which was a hour or so long walk around the lake; it isn’t a very big lake. Going around the lake makes for a pleasant walk. We saw some puku, which are everywhere, and had some good looks at some birds. We spotted some elephant tracks, and then next day we got to see an elephant walk through the lake and enjoy some grass.


Lily on the lake walk.

Our first bat experience was the next morning. We woke up at 0315 and were served coffee and tea at 0330 before bundling up and heading out to the blind at 0400. It was pretty chilly that morning but they gave us blankets for the ride out there, which Lily really appreciated. We got to use the BBC blind. It’s called that because it is the blind the BBC used when they came out to film the bat migration. The blind has two levels, with the highest being at least 40 feet above the ground, near the top of a tall tree into which it is built. This put us right at eye level with the bats returning in the morning.


Bats returning in the morning to their roosts. My camera lens has a scratch right in the middle of it which is distressing.

For both the evening and the morning, the bats start at a trickle and slowly build up to a whole gigantic amount of bats just streaming to or from this patch of forest. When it really reaches its max amount you’re left thinking like, man this is a whole bunch of bats. And then it just keeps going for another 30 minutes or an hour, which bats just going at a constant stream. In the half square kilometer or so of the forest, some 3 million kilograms of bats wind up roosting, which is something like the equivalent of 550 elephants. 550 elephants all flying through the air and then roosting in trees. I am astonished there is enough fruit around to feed them all.

After watching the bats all return to their roosts, we went back to the lodge just in time for breakfast. The morning was spent napping and listening to the hippos grunt in the lake. Not a bad way to spend the day. After lunch and at about 1600, we got ready again to head out for the evening experience. We had more company this time, and we all gathered in a hide at the other side of the forest. This hide wasn’t as tall, but was in the flight path of the bats so we got to watch them all flying overhead and were relatively close to them. I even saw a bat flying with a baby clinging to her belly; that’s gotta be tough flying around with a baby strapped to you.


Bats streaming out to the surrounding forests to feed on fruits.

Again it is just so many bats. Half an hour in you’re thinking “man they gotta be about done” but then they just keep coming. It is quite an experience and if you find yourself in Zambia around November or December quite worth going. After our evening bat experience it was back to the lodge. We decided not to do anything the next morning and had a leisurely breakfast before heading out to the gate to hitch back to our sites. Now that I’ve seen the world’s largest mammal migration, I suppose the second largest one would just be a bit lackluster.

Corncob Charcoal Pt 2

Corncob Charcoal

Actual people making actual charcoal from actual maize/corn cobs.

Reading this week:

  • A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
  • Bombs Away by John Steinbeck

“Hello everyone!” Peter began. It was the following week. “Today we are going to learn how to make charcoal out of corncobs!”

The villagers, after greeting Peter, smiled and nodded. They paid close attention.

“But today will be different!” So far it was. Today, Peter was standing next to a hole in the ground. “I figured out that you guys weren’t making charcoal out of corncobs because you didn’t want to build a kiln!”

The trouble, Peter had figured, was that he had been using a brick kiln to make charcoal out of corncobs. Although it was cheap and easy to make, it might have proved too much of a hurdle to ask the villagers to build a kiln before they started making charcoal out of corncobs. So, on the internet, he had found a technique for making charcoal in a pit dug into the ground.

More excited than usual for today’s demonstration, Peter continued with not only gusto but a little giddiness.

“Okay! So here’s the trick!” Peter hefted a stick. “With this technique, first you put a stick in the middle!”

Peter put a stick in the middle of the pit.

“Now! You layer in the dried grass and corncobs, like we usually do!” Also like usual, Peter invited some villagers to help him put dried grass and corncobs in layers into the kiln. The hands-on approach, after all, really helped to drive the point home.

“With that done, you take out the stick!” Peter took the stick out of the middle of the pit, leaving a hole in the layers of dried grass and corncobs. “And now we get to light it on fire!”

Using the stick to help him, Peter shoved a burning piece of paper down into the middle of the hole, lighting the bottom of the pile of dried grass and corncobs. Enclosed in the pit, the pile began to emit smoke.

“Alright! You guys know what comes next!” Peter checked to see if the villagers really did know what came next. “We light the smoke on fire!”

Using another burning piece of paper, Peter lit the billowing smoke on fire. Then, quickly, Peter covered the pit with a piece of metal and sealed all the edges with mud.

“Okay! Now, just like when we used the kiln, we’ll let this pit smolder here overnight. Tomorrow, we’ll uncover it, and we’ll have charcoal! No kiln needed!”

Peter beamed. The villagers smiled and nodded.

“Well, that’s all I have for today! Thank you for coming!”

The villagers, smiling, left. Today’s demonstration had been a refreshing change of pace. It was exciting to learn a new technique for making charcoal out of corncobs. Peter was excited to show them and they were happy to support their friend. The villagers nodded in knowing, silent agreement with each other that it had been a very good demonstration.

The spread of the nanites was a hard phenomenon to find out about. Anyone who witnessed technology dissolving around them usually reached down to their phone to take a picture, only to find their phone gone. When they went to get back in their car and drive somewhere to tell someone, they would find their car gone. If they then felt a sudden, eerie gust of wind, it was usually because they found themselves without their synthetic clothes.

People started to figure out something was up when no one could get hold of anyone in California. Of course, what with all the world’s technology fueling the spread of the nanites, along with the inevitable math of expanding powers of two, it didn’t take anyone long to figure out why. Or, if they didn’t figure out why, they were soon busy with their own problems of missing phones, cars, clothes, and every other piece of technology they formerly had laying around.

Peter stepped out of his hut into the sun. The day had dawned remarkably bright and clear. He got on his bike to head into town. The bike ride into town was grueling. It was uphill the whole way, and entirely on a dirt road. The dirt road was sometimes okay but got worse and worse as the rainy season went on. Peter wished that there was a way to get the road paved. If they laid down asphalt and made it a tarmac road the bike ride would be a lot easier. He might even be able to call a cab. Convincing any of the taxi drivers to take their cars off-road was a challenge, and when Peter could find someone it was astonishingly expensive. A road would be nice.

Peter turned the last corner into town and promptly fell down. He fell down because his bike was suddenly no longer under him. He didn’t notice that for a few minutes, however, because he was too busy noticing that the town was in ruins. The walls of some of the mud brick buildings still stood but almost everything else was gone. He didn’t see any cars and the cell phone tower was missing. Peter went to go pick up his bike, found his bike was gone, looked around, and got up to start walking towards his friend Pearson’s restaurant.

Peter walked into the ruins of the restaurant. Inside, he found Pearson sitting in the middle of the floor. “What… what happened?” asked Peter.

Pearson looked up to see Peter, and sprang to his feet. “Peter! It’s gone! Everything’s gone!”

“Yeah but how?” Peter was suddenly frightened of Pearson. “What happened to everything?”

Pearson staggered towards Peter, putting his hand’s on Peter’s shoulders. Then, gesturing wildly “We were here! I was cooking on the stove, preparing for lunch. I… I looked up to check the time on the clock and it was gone. Just gone! Then I looked down at the stove, but it was gone. I left the kitchen, and… and everything was just gone!” Pearson slumped back down.

Peter backed out of the ruins of the restaurant and back into the bright daylight. He thought, finally, to call someone and find out what was going on. He reached for his phone to find it missing. It wasn’t until then he really panicked. He started running. He tripped almost instantly on a loose rock, spilled into a gully, and skinned his knee.

Picking himself back up, Peter calmed down slightly. With no bike, no phone, and with nowhere else to go, he started walking home. It was dark by the time he reached his hut. He collapsed onto his mat and passed out.

For several days, the villagers had fretted about Peter. They had seen him come back without his bike. Since then, he had stayed largely in his hut. When he did leave, he had looked stricken. He hadn’t called any meetings. The villagers didn’t know exactly what was wrong with Peter, but they had noticed some other changes. The days had been brighter and more clear for the past few days. They hadn’t noticed any planes in the sky. A few items had gone missing, like plastic buckets, but these were largely of no consequence. The man from the NGO had said he was coming, but had never arrived.

In a few quiet gatherings, the villagers made a plan to make Peter happy. The happiness of their friend was very important to them. He was a man that had given them many gifts, and so deserved one in return.

The procession of villagers found Peter at his hut, looking at the distant hills. He had been waiting since his return to see if someone would come rescue him. Waking the morning after his return from town, Peter had realized that if some catastrophe had occurred, and they hadn’t heard from him, a rescue party would drive out to find him. So he had sat, and waited. Some of the time he had spent looking for his model car. It was gone.

Peter turned around and was surprised to find a crowd of villagers standing in his yard, smiling. “Oh, uh, hey guys. What brings you here?”

One of the villagers stepped forward carrying a bundle. Kneeling, the villager unwrapped the gift and presented it to Peter. Peter looked down at the bundle. He looked up at the villagers. Peter reached into the bundle and took out a piece of charcoal. It was corncob charcoal.

Clutching the charcoal, Peter turned around to hide his tears. Hey, he thought. Something terrible must have happened. That was for sure. But finally, he was doing something about climate change.