Letter from Africa

Guest post by Narada

A story of Yoga, love, laughter and determination

Surprisingly, I managed to squeeze through a window of opportunity to get to my charitable project in Africa, Ulingana.com, raising funds for my young deaf friend, Ketty, to get a schooling. And now also building a Yoga Hall on a friend’s bit of the Compound. That’s tribal land forming a maze of tracks and dwellings around the local town, Katete, here in Eastern Province, Zambia.

On top of Mount Mphangwe

The Internet here is random. I get an ok signal some of the time, but the nearest server for my provider is Harare, some 300 miles away in Zimbabwe, and the nearest transmitter is Mount Mphangwe about 10 miles across country. I have to try and get in line of sight with that transmitter to get a fair signal. If the weather is good I balance the mobile up one of Alice’s mango trees in line with that  mountain transmitter, the laptop sits on a pile of concrete blocks next to the washing up buckets, and we get a good enough signal for a bit of Zoom with Swamiji. (We climbed up the tower of that transmitter a couple of years ago on a breakfast picnic jaunt up the mountain; the maintenance guy was a friend of a friend and said… climb… no problem. Imagine them letting you do that in the UK!)

Something serious coming this way

Usually there is a huge amount of electrical disturbance in the rainy season…. clouds build up by midday and then big storms. The storms disturb the internet signal and often knock out the electricity, sometimes for days, so we go incommunicado for a while. No bad thing maybe.

traditional village out in the bush

Lightning strikes kill many people here every year, sometimes a whole family working in the field. Appalling tragedy doesn’t make news, only a bit of localised sadness, then everyone turns out for the funeral because people are close, with extended families all around them. Eastern province seems like a forgotten land with an unknown number of people living in traditional mud-built villages out in the bush and an unknown number of children getting zero education.

I have to stretch my money out as much as possible; the donations that people kindly gave for the Yoga hall only paid for the basic structure, which was making our own blocks and paying someone to lay them. Alice and her mother dug the foundations,  but the roof, floor, plastering, painting have all come out of my pocket. Fate sent us a very competent builder who soon became a friend and even came to help me paint for free. The result is a labour of love and it shows! I’m making a movie telling the story of this project and soon that will appear on ulingana.com

Currency is plunging in value here, so prices are rising day by day. That does mean that my pound goes a lot further, but food is getting more expensive and many go hungry, especially now in the ‘hunger gap’ which is the period between last year’s crop running out and this year’s being ready. Unless you are heartless, you have to share food and help as many as you can. I’ve started cooking sorghum or millet pancakes in the morning before I go off to the compound. They’re delicious and  a cheap way of getting nutrition into us. Swamiji and Swami SatyaDaya both understand my plight and have sent generous donations to help pay for hunger help. 

The rains have taken a break these last few days. If they restart and fatten the maize, we will have a good crop and people will be ok for a while. If they don’t we will have a poor crop and the problem will be compounded for next year. Not that lack of rains are the only hazard; last year Alice and her family were ready for a bumper crop, then a herd of cows, being tended (supposedly) by little boys who should be at school, marauded into their crop and utterly destroyed it while the boys were splashing in a stream unaware. I was there when Mrs Ngwenya returned from the field. She was in shock and then her tears came. It felt like a hand was squeezing my heart.

all manner of creatures

Such is life here. Don’t imagine this country is like South Africa, Botswana, or Namibia. It isn’t. This is poverty as you probably haven’t seen; here in Eastern Zambia, Malawi, Northern Mozambique & Zimbabwe and DRC we have the poorest part of the world, only surpassed now by Yemen perhaps. I believe some of my ashram colleagues think I sit in the hot tropical sun by the pool sipping Pina Coladas. The only pools are in the tracks through the compounds. Pools full of mosquito larvae. Malaria is rife. The Lodge where I stay is broken beyond repair and often lacking in basic services such as water for washing or drinking. I stay here because I negotiate a cheap rate for a room shared with cockroaches, ants, mosquitos (‘uzuzu’) and all manner of creatures. But the staff are great, many are my friends, and  they’ve taught me about cheerfulness in adversity amongst many other life lessons. The kitchen staff let me cook my meals on the charcoal braziers (though Alice cooks my lunch on the compound), and the night watchmen always heat up water for my morning bucket shower. Luxury.

Don’t be put off by all this if you want to come and have a Yoga retreat somewhere very different. Sure, it’s not for the faint-hearted but it’s a possibility in the future. You’ll need to stay in a better lodge than I; you can get a decent room and food for 15 pounds a night.  Malaria prevention is possible using the plant extract Artemesinin if you don’t want the Pharma drugs. You will have a very different time to Lycra-by-the-pool Yoga retreats. Oh Yes. 

Oh, I nearly forgot… the Upsides

Ketty’s laugh

In the season… fresh mangoes. One or two for breakfast, straight off the tree. After the mango season, guavas, blackberry-like fruits on trees (no English name), papayas, fresh lemons, oranges. What else…. scuttling lizards, big monitor lizards, drinking Mnkhoyo (local fermented drink made from a certain root), eating Nsima with your hands (good) but without licking your fingers (bad), astonishing wildlife that will take your breath away just 2 hours up the road, driving to big town Chipata to the supermarkets and stocking up with food for the next few weeks feeling like country hicks.

I could go on…..  a Yoga class with laughter and joy, Ketty’s laugh, the smell of Africa, the ox-cart careering along the track at a canter with a boy and a big stick at the helm, vocal harmonies coming from open church doorways, driving Zambian beats coming from ramshackle moonshine-smelling bars….

I am lucky that my destiny has led me to this part of the world. Come and visit us soon Swamiji, we will do our best to make you safe. After all you have been, in your life, a far more adventurous traveler than I. 

Love from us.

I wake at 5.15 in pre-dawn darkness to the sound of glorious rain. First time for a week. Then the show begins. The drama of the thunder gods in what Bob Dylan calls ‘ Wild Cathedral Skies’ (Chimes of Freedom), lit from within by flashes of power going every which way… up, down, across the sky. Suddenly, as I take a bucket shower in the half-light (the electricity has been knocked out by the heavenly violence), the very air lights up around me, and a quarter second later the crackling roar of some giant cosmic engine starting up, followed by a deafening crashing chaos of sound. Wow, direct hit I guess. I go and see what’s what, and if there are any smoking buildings. All ok. Then through the rain I see my friend Edson (‘Mr Chef’) walking in to work from the compound. (Mr Chef used to cook for the rich on safari, I have to remind him often to treat me as Brother, not Bwana). He’s carrying a metal tipped umbrella, or ‘lightning conductor’ as we call them, blithely careless of danger. Iron man! 

And I can hear the crops thirstily drinking their fill. We’ll have a good harvest methinks.

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