Tag Archives: Zambia

CBI Eilis Dillon Award 2012

Absolutely thrilled to have won the Eilis Dillon award for a First Children’s Book at the CBI Book Awards .  Just to say I am delighted. A great honour for the Butterfly Heart, for me and, I think, for Zambia.

Here is a pic of the certificate and the lovely trophy (which one of my daughters reckons would make a good weapon….?) Mega thanks to everyone – especially my extended family!

Trophy and beautiful window (not legible I know)

Slightly more legible picture

Craft and Ingenuity in Zambia

I am lucky enough to be on an email forum of Zambians in California. I found my way onto it through Vukani Nyirenda. Last week someone on the forum emailed out this brilliant picture.

This generated a lot of discussion. One of the responses that came in was from Victor Mwaba who describes himself as a thirty something father of two young girls, husband of one wife, who was born and completed high school in Zambia, but went to college and now works as an engineer in the US.

I am reproducing his response with his permission below.

Victor said … “I must say I find this picture quite mesmerizing because it brings a profound sense of nostalgia with it. I can relate to the subject because I used to be quite a craftsman when I was little.

A cousin of mine from the village taught me how to knit fishing nets. This process first involves reinforcing/twisting (ukupila) the polythene mealie-meal sack fibres with which you make the net. I would put a few strands of this fibre between my shin and my hand, row it down my shin, and let the fibres twist on themselves upon release, making a very very strong cord. Then I would also make big strong nets to put on soccer goal posts and bar made out of bamboos. This prevented a lot of arguments as to whether someone scored, or not.

I went onto making badminton racquets with the same ‘reinforced’ fibre. Get some strong thick wires and pieces of wood and the fibre; I have a raquet! For the badminton shuttle, I would get the stem of a cob of maize (umuseba) and shape it smooth appropriately on one end. Then get chicken or duck feathers and glue them to the maize cob stem; you have a perfectly flying shuttle. Of course the badminton net would be made with two bamboo sticks on two sides and the reinforced fibre net in the middle.

With this much fun, lets just say mom used to force us to go and eat nshima (The Zambian corn meal staple), else we would play all day long. Nintendo what? Wii? Video games were for the top 1%. 99% of us just figured out how to have fun blissfully with whatever material we could lay our hands on.The good ol’ days.”

Thanks Victor (pictured below) for letting me post that – it is no wonder you became an engineer it was in you from a very young age.

Victor Mwaba

Play Pump in Katapazi, Zambia

How’s this for a simple but brilliant idea?

A Play Pump at Katapazi School in the Mukuni Chiefdom

I came across this on The Butterfly Tree website. An organisation that unusually does not apportion funds it receives to large overhead costs and salaries. All the money raised goes straight to benefit those who need it, and the project is involved in very practical work that is not imposed – they work with rather than for the communities they work in.

This Play Pump is located in the Katapazi Basic School which is in the Mukuni Chiefdom not far from Mosi oa Tunya , and enables the children, through play, to pump up clean safe water from the underground borehole into a 2,500 litre tank.

Water is life, and in the West it is taken for granted. I know in Ireland it is, we have so much of it I sometimes wonder whether the island might just float away! Elsewhere it cannot be taken for granted.

Here are the facts (republished from Just a Drop )
Kid carrying bucket


A child dies around every 20 seconds as a result of water-borne diseases. 

Over 1.1 billion people in the world – roughly one eighth of its total population – do not have access to clean, safe water.

Around 2.5 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation – almost two-fifths of the world’s population.

Over 2.75 million people die from diseases every year because of unsafe water. 

1.4 million children die each year from diarrhoea alone caused by unsafe water. 

Over 40 billion working hours are spent carrying water each year in Africa.

In parts of Africa women and Asia women often carry water weighing as much as 20kgs (the same as the average UK airport luggage allowance) on their heads.

Source: World Health Organisation, UNICEF, Cosgrove & Rijserman

Room to Read

I recently came across an organisation called Room to Read which is working in Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Laos, Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Their aim is a simple one: We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world. To this end they have focussed on literacy and gender equality in education.

What has impressed me in reading about them is that they employ local teams to implement the programs – ‘local teams who are personally invested in their nation’s educational progress, and familiar with the challenges ahead. They speak the language, know the customs, and understand what it takes to implement each program successfully.’ Once this happens the success of programmes such as these is a whole lot more likely.

To date, according to their website, they have achieved the following:

Schools 1,556
Libraries 13,152
Books Published 707
Books Distributed 11 3 million
Girls’ Education Participants 15,388
Children Benefited 6 million

Pretty impressive.

Below are some pictures from their website as well as from the website Passports with Purpose  who last year worked with Room to Read Zambia and are now busy building libraries with monies raised.

Habitat for Humanity and Zambian Skies

I came across a blog yesterday that linked Ireland and Zambia (here it is). Ciaran Kelly who writes the blog is going to Chipulukusu in Ndola. There he and other members of Habitat for Humanity will build five houses. The project operates similarly to the Niall Mellon Trust in that the volunteers have to raise the money themselves, so Ciaran’s aim is €3000. He has almost reached his goal.

As he says himself  about Habitat for Humanity: ‘They have been building worldwide since 1976, and their motto is to ‘Give a hand up – not a hand out’.

They have built more than 500,000 houses in almost 100 countries, housing more than 2 million people. In 2011 Habitat for Humanity Ireland sent 251 volunteers overseas, on various projects in different communities.’

That’s great to read about, 251 people from Ireland, in the middle of a deepening recession, taking time out to help others in a very real and practical way.

So, Good Luck Ciaran and all the other volunteers! You are going to a great country; enjoy the work, the people and your beautiful surroundings.

I found this picture below taken by a student from Ohio who was visiting Zambia. He could not get over the Zambian skies. Zambian Tourism describes the skies quite rightly as ‘big, big skies.’ And it is true. Nothing quite like it.

Kanga Writings – Jina

Anyone from Africa, or who has travelled in Africa, will have come into contact with the exquisite fabrics that have emerged from this continent. East to West, North to South, the colours and patterns on the cloth reflect the warmth of the sun and the richness of the earth.

In Zambia these cloths are called Chitenge and I feel privileged enough to have some (courtesy of Mwanabibi Sikamo who is the Founder of Bibusa – which produces quality handmade goods from Africa.  She also writes the blog Uprooting the Pumpkin.)

Below is a picture of one of my chitenge which currently brightens up my filing cabinet!

My chitenge filing cabinet

In Kenya, where I was born, the cloths which are worn by women in  a variety of ways are called Kanga. Kanga in Swahili means Guinea Fowl and the story goes that in Zanzibar, where these cloths first emerged, they were named for the guinea fowl because of their bright speckled patterns.

For me the most fascinating thing about the kangas is that each one bears a message; sometimes a  Swahili proverb, sometimes a political slogan, sometimes a very personal message from the giver to the receiver. These messages are known as Jina and they are many and varied. Short and to the point, they carry a whole lot of meaning.  They are given by mothers to daughters, friends to one another, children to mothers, husbands to wives etc. And the meaning matters. For me it is such a wonderful tradition, a beautiful gift with a message on it that you have to puzzle out.

If you want to read more, this site has a very good list of just a few of the jina found on kangas.

While I was reading up about them I came across an interesting tale (recounted by Wener Graebner) which demonstrates so clearly how these jina can be used. A young Tanzanian girl recounted how she became engaged to a German man and that in her area this caused much talk. She bought herself two kangas: on the one was the message – Wasemao na waseme – Let them talk who want to talk; on the other was written, Moyo ndiye muamuzi – Only the heart decides. She reported that the talk soon stopped once she appeared wearing these.

Here is a photo of some of my own kanga. They would look better under the African sun!

Weaver Birds

An abiding memory for me from childhood is the sight of branches weighed down by the nests of the Weaver birds. These birds are found all over Sub Saharan Africa and there are many varieties of them.  The ones in Zambia would build nests like these ones below, and as children we always loved finding a nest that had been discarded. Perhaps it had not met the standards of a fussy female and she had rejected it in favour of another. A colony of these weavers is a noisy affair, the males, who build these very complex structures, make their presence felt. They sound almost as if they’re squabbling!

A Masked Weaver

You can see from the pictures above that the birds build their nests close to one another, but in Namibia they go a step further. The Sociable Weavers who live in Namibia build entire structures. A little like the termites who build huge mounds together, these birds build huge apartment blocks in the trees.

Here is a short clip with David Attenborough about this phenomenon (excuse the ad, nothing I can do about it!)

Starting a new story

There are as many ways to start a new story as there are writers. In fact more – because perhaps each story they write springs from a different beginning.

Having finished editing another draft of a novel, and facing into a new edit on the follow on to Butterfly Heart, I thought it might be a relief to start writing something entirely new.

My first thought was not ‘what will it be about?’ it was ‘where will it be?’ and my second thought was ‘I wonder who will make an appearance.’

Even though I have now lived in Ireland for eight years, it is not the first setting that springs to mind. I feel I do not know it well enough, I do not know the cadence of the place or the detail of the land. I hope I will one day as this is where I have made my home. But right now, when I think ‘where will it be?’ I head towards those countries in Africa where I spent most of my life – Zambia, Kenya and South Africa.

In each of the places the sounds, the smells, the voices, the trees, the earth and the sky come into my mind more easily. The feel of the ground beneath my feet, the heat of the sun, the music of a conversation, the way people move – all of these things are in my head.

Then it is the who?

When I last tried to start a new story I had the line in my head ‘Frank Waters was not a talkative man. I posted about that – but Frank Waters has still not made an appearance. Perhaps next time.  After that false beginning I started writing a love story set it in Wales –  I have three chapters written but it is not going where I want it to. So that story is taking a rest. I think I will come back to it though as I like the characters.

Miss Bwalya, who writes a blog called Seize the Moment recently posted a video of a Zambian singer called Mutinta – the song is called Chungwa.  It is worth a listen. Why I raise it now is because Mutinta struck me so strongly – she has a very strong presence and there is something so joyful and free about both her movement and voice that it brings a smile to your face. I am looking for a character with that kind of presence, in a book I as yet know nothing about which may or may not be set in Zambia, or Kenya or South Africa!

Watch the video and you’ll see.