The letter from the Luembe Community Resource Board of Nyimba district , Zambia, was quite straightforward. They needed funds to pay some volunteer teachers.
â€œAs a Board, we strongly request for this help because we fell and accept that the government has failed to send teachers there. On this point , we ask you to to come to the aid of Mâ€™Shalira Basic School community found in the Game Management Area No. 17 to assistâ€.
As the rains threatened, and accompanied by Gordon Mace – an old Africa hand based in Johannesburg, as well as the Chairman of the Board, Axon Lungu, we drove the six hours or so to my camp on the Luangwa river from the capital Lusaka, first dropping off Axon at his family village some 12 km away. The river was low, my pontoon of a dozen 44 gallon drums and angle iron stranded, so we crossed in the banana boat, skirting a hippo on the way. That evening, lightning played continuously on the horizon. We would have to hurry.
In the morning, we made ready for the short trip to Mâ€™Shalira school, first being briefed by my staff and the village scout, Emmanuel (only there as I had needed his protective help for some Belgian volunteers I had brought out to carry out a food security assessment), on the poaching incident some four days previously where a gang had killed two elephant â€“ possibly another, and had wounded two, all from the same matriarchal group. My suspicions were aroused, for government wildlife police officers and the village scouts working under them, though paid by the Board from funds generated by our company, Mbeza Safaris, had appeared at the camp and asked for transport to collect the meat.
An hour after leaving Malone camp, not another person or hut to be seen, we drew up to the maize grinding mill which my sons had repaired two months ago, deposited diesel for the engine, and cement for the laying of a concrete slab, being watched by the friendly villagers from a village unchanged from that of their forefathers. And when one of my men emptied a sack of empty tins and bottles I had rescued from our Malone camp garbage hole, they rushed forward to claim them. Such are the treasures of a people forgotten by the world.
We then drove the short distance up to Mâ€™Shalira Basic school: and basic it is. Close to the road, I found the headmaster, Mr Daka, resting in his grass and pole Chitenje, the crumbling and cracked staff quarters standing close-by. We drove up to the school: six classrooms of mud brick and mud floors – one new classroom built of grass walls had been added on, and signs of flooding all around. Children beavered away inside at arithmetic, unsupervised, but as quiet as the surrounding bush.
â€œMy only teacher is away in Petauke to get his pay. We have to go every month to collect it and it takes a week. As you see I am the only one here now, â€ said Daka.
â€œWhen last were you visited by someone from the Department of Education?â€
â€œOh, they never come here. They canâ€™t drive. You can see.â€
â€œAnd the elephant, they give us a hard life hereâ€, he said, waving towards some mangled pawpaw trees nearby.â€
I thought of how an elephant can eat 4% of his body weight in a night of garden raiding.
Later I interviewed three volunteer teachers, one a member of the CRB whom I knew, the other the Village Area Group Chairman, part of the group of six with whom I was developing a landuse plan for the 1 million acre area. We settled on K250 000 each per month, the same sum I paid to keep the village scouts employed, unpaid by Government for seven months: $50 each a month; it did not sound much but it would feed them and their families; the villagers after all earned about $.30 cents a day â€“ if that.
Daka showed me the book store-room, which seemed well stocked. Picking up a few work books, mud fell from between the pages. The termites were at work. Looking up at the dividing wall I could see that the bricks would soon fall onto the books.
On the way back to the camp we saw a group in the distance, obviously out hunting. One of them was in the green uniform of a village scout, but it turns out that he had resigned a month ago. He is hunting with a muzzle loader for a hippo, and as required, has no monitoring scout to see that he kills and marks the animal off on his resident hunting permit. We take his name and details which I will pass on to Axon. Later I hear of another village scout who has shot a buffalo legally but had not marked it off, therefore facing a poaching charge. And word was that the Zambia Wildlife Authority had issued four buffalo to residents, when last year they had agreed not to do so, given their decimation by the bushmeat trade.
That night the full loom of the rains rents our world asunder, and the following morning, once across the river, we only extricate ourselves with the help of my cheerful gang who take it in turns to look after our camp during the rains. In the nearest line of villages we see a group of men gathered under the eaves of a hut, drinking; there among them are the two ZAWA officers in charge of the game camps. Meat for beer. Cheers.