Its been a long week, but finally after many hard days I can say I have a road! Days started at 7. A short drive to the existing road ended and ours started, followed by shoes thrown off and trousers hitched up. As we received our cold morning wake up call, crossing the river. I crossed alone one day and surprisingly the men told me off. Don’t cross alone Ngwenya they said, meaning crocodile. Depending on the rains the water would go up to our thighs and on the worst days hip level. I went with a gang of 7, local people who would pick up the water and smell for fish I didn’t know if this was to see if they could drink or a way of telling if the Ngwenya would be lurking. Tree chopping started directly after the river crossing. And never before have I worked so hard! With a hoe and an axe we began. The men cutting down most of the trees and women thankfully filling the holes and trenches. There wasn’t much talking the first day and if they spoke to referred to me as Madam, I put that to an end quickly having them all repeat da-nee a few times. Thankfully I went with Tilda who could speak English and it wasn’t long until we were all semi communicating. Mainly laughing at my attempts to repeat words and ushering me back to spots id missed whilst filling holes. I made the terrible mistake of trying to impress the first day and couldn’t quite keep it up. Slow and steady definitely wins the race. The first tree I chopped was entertainment for the group, they all stopped to watch my 20 something swings to pull the thing out of the ground. And I defiantly wanted to sit down for a 7hr break after doing it! We would walk and chop continuously and turn around for the hour ½ walk back around 2. I tell you, the car never looked so glorious before sat on the other side of the river waiting to take us home. We didn’t have breaks but thankfully the men would collect sugar cane from the villager’s fields for a re-boost. I had to receive lessons on how to eat it and how to properly, but I was a lot better at that then the tree removal. On the fourth to last day, I walked to the school with Taweh and Kiso trying to gage how many more days of blistered hands I had left. Halfway through our walk, the rains came! And didn’t finish until the last day. Some days it wasn’t so bad, the air was still warm and a quick excuse to duck under a tree came in handy. The last day had to be my favourite, hard rains and cold winds started about an hour away from the school. The team wanted to carry on as I suggested we should return. We were all soaked, one of the men gave me his jacket as I shivered down the road. Slightly miserable but close to completion I was still able to pull my only joke shouting Ngwenya (crocodile) every time someone walked through a large puddle. I think they regretted teaching me the word. We arrived at the school and by some miracle, the builder was sat in a small hut making a fire. All of us quickly huddled around, Tilda took her jacket off and without talking the guys grabbed corners and held it over the fire. The builder started cooking Sudza (sort of thick mash made out of corn) and Mopani worms. They showed me how to cook the dish and offered me a worm, I couldn’t really refuse and was given my second lesson how to eat the thing! Off with its head and their faces were full of delight as they watched my face screw up as the insect tickled its way down my throat. I was proud of the work on the road, impressed with what it meant but the achievement didn’t compare to the simplicity of being huddled around a fire with the gang, who I’d like to call friends now. It had to be one of the simplest moments I have ever experienced. Food shared with people who don’t have a lot to share, all looking out for one another. Checking each other’s jackets were dry, one of the girls taking my hat and holding it above the flames for me. I learnt communication goes far beyond words, a smile, being pointed at half a brick to sit on and share, the boys pointed at thorns and prickles before I walked over them. Compassion and love truly are wherever you look for them.
On Friday, I took a drive to the district school inspector’s office. You see, is not as simple as raising funds to give to the school. You have to get approvals from the DSI and council to donate and help build. I went with my auntie, the headmaster and another teacher. In the heat with no aircon, I sweated my way through the communal land. There are three things in life I don’t cope well with, and first world me comes out to play – 1. Small spaces filled with hot air 2. All I’m saying is hanger is real 3. Bugs thinking, they can nap in your bed and munching on your skin.
115Km on tar highway would take you just over an hour, but not here! 3hrs later we arrived. The DSI, a man whose joy and enthusiasm about children fills the room. Clapped and insisted his 2IC clapped too as we told him about our plans. Things have been slow over the last few weeks. Complications keep coming our way, and when things don’t work you start to second guess yourself. But any doubts I’ve been having about staying here were washed away after the meeting. He made sure we wrote an approval letter there and then, to be stamped by him and sent to the minister. Never in my life, would I have thought something with my name on would be sent to a minister. And like any person brought up with harry potter, all I was thinking was ministry of magic! Maybe no owls appeared but there was some magic, not only in the DSI but in the teacher who came with us. A Local man, who currently works for free. Schools are desperately in need of teachers but unfortunately, Governments are unable to pay. So this valentines day, I honour my post to a man who has nothing but gives everything. Whats next? A little more waiting for the go-ahead and building can commence!
After a long journey, three days, in fact, I arrived back on my family’s farm. Needless to say, nerves kicked in as my cousin handed me over to Fraudry the 66-year-old game scout, who doesn’t look a day over 40 (no alcohol and cigarets – his tip when I asked how he remained so youthful). There was no turning back, I could have been in the comforts of home by this time, but instead I stood with a trunk full of rations, some soap and a collection of essential oils (citronella, tea tree and eucalyptus my cure to any problem) oh and lets not forget the ‘Herbal drugs, Ebiable and poisons plants’ book I picked up, just in case the beans run out and the wild turns into my local shop. As fraudry filled me in on his time off, nerves began to fade and excitement took over. It’s funny how quickly you forget about city life when you’re out here. Being met with a family of giraffes instead of traffic lights becomes pretty normal. I spent the next day walking up mountains trying to remember the layout of the lands and headed to the tomato fields, to say hello to the workers I’ve made friends with/forced myself upon – I mean 16,500 hectares with two family members any new face is a potential buddy. I’m also pretty aware I might descend into madness, we’ve all seen castaway (side note must find ball just in case). But apart from the solitude, the magnitude of what I want to achieve, I couldn’t be happier to be back. Today calls for, Proposals! Proposals! proposals! I am trying to apply for grants if anyone has any proposal tips or know of any government grants an email would be greatly appreciated firstname.lastname@example.org