Under the Big African Sky, part 1

I love to travel, to see how others live. How they are the same, how they are different. How they eat, not least of all. I’m thrilled by names, places, people, animals, transportation. A tiny international airport in Zambia where they hand-write the tickets and cats wander the waiting area.

I spent four days roughing it in the five-million-acre Kruger National Park in the province of Mpumalanga, “the place where the sun comes out.” It’s fun just to SAY Mpumalanga.

And our guide, Nick–probably worried when he saw two blonde American women–warned us that his motto is, “TIA.” Or, THIS IS AFRICA. Rough translation, don’t even think about whining. My own version of it, when I’d see something crazy, was, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

We met lots of Africans, and not one who had ever been off the continent. Their mouths would gape open with astonishment when I described to them that the week before I got to 95-degree Africa, I was skiing in snow waist-deep. I told them it’s so cold where I live that the hairs in your nose freeze, so you have to wiggle your nose to break up the ice. And your breath makes a frozen vapor cloud. They can’t imagine it.

One asked me, incredulously, “How can the children write in school? Aren’t their fingers stiff?” Central heat (or AC), of course, is something they’ve never experienced.

In the village of Muukuni, 7,000 people live, the vast majority without jobs. No electricity, no running water, no internet. The women carry water in pots on their head. The only junk food I saw was a little hanging stand at the entrance to the village–but only the occasional tourist who visits buys it–and apparently not much, since the vendor’s bags of potato chips were sun-faded.

In my world travels (23 countries on 4 continents the past 4 years), I’ve found few places untainted by Western culture. Even rural Vietnam and China had far too much processed food. The ONLY places on Earth that don’t have processed foods are the places where the people have virtually no access to cash.

Muukuni Village is one of those rarities. The vast majority of families have zero income, and there is no government aid. Unfortunately, they also have leprosy, extreme poverty, and a high mortality rate. The chief can be put to death if the Council decrees so, and once they decided to poison the chief. When he didn’t die, they buried him alive.

My guide, Lumba Simulube, told me her large family was orphaned in 1996 when her father died of a nosebleed. Since you don’t generally die of that, they assume he died of a hex his brother put on him.

Only four in the village own a car–for commercial purposes.

There are things I like about village life. For instance, there is zero crime. Maybe that’s because everyone is poor (so who would you steal from?). But part of it has to be this: look at the photos of the community jail. While I was standing next to it, a couple of young men were escorted in by the village elders. They are questioned, and they are caned by an old woman, only if they refuse to be accountable for their actions. Look at all the kids gathering around–it’s rare that anyone needs discipline, so the kids were fascinated.

The crimes of these youth?

They are referred by parents if they use bad language, disrespecting elders, or refusing to do their jobs.

9 thoughts on “Under the Big African Sky, part 1

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  1. My adopted son is from Lusaka, while my husband has been to Zambia, I have never been. I read your post trying to get more understanding about where my boy comes from.

    Thank you

  2. It’s too bad the woman is getting the water. The men have more muscles and should be doing that work. Water is extremely heavy.

  3. My daughter who is 20 is in Ghana now. She is working in a school and an orphanage. She loves Ghana and it’s people. They are warm, gracious and loving. The kids in the orphanage are adorable and so happy to have anyone hug them and show them a little attention and affection. The people of Ghana are appreciative of anything that you do for them. After hearing about all the wonderful experiences that you Robin, and my daughter have had in Africa, we are going to schedule a trip there with the entire family to volunteer. We know it will be our best vacation ever!

  4. I visited Zambia last spring on a mission trip and visited Mukuni Village, truly wonderful people and the children are always so happy and playing together, what they lack in money and income, they make up for in strong family bonds.

  5. Robin, thank you so much for sharing. You inspire me to go there some day and to also volunteer! I am an artist and a healer. Would love to have your website on mine! my website is: http://www.yokasgallery.com and the website I am working on is named: http://www.divinelighthouse.com It will have testimonials about the healing work I do, toothbrushes to be used with only water, creating an anti-bacterial field, Ultimate Super Foods, about eating raw and many more wonderful things!

    I read your column and share it with friends! Let me know if you are interested?



  6. Loved the pictures of Africa. The thought came to me . . . how do you handle the required vaccinations? Have you had any problems with them?

  7. I have a friend who helps a lot in Africa, to children , she raises money from foundations, she also help women, and she is shocked like me , we think How a whole culture that dont developed ,who comes from the heat and lack of water (that is important to a civilization) not becoming a healthier and cleaner city, with streets, why men not working more , the woman must work all the day ? machism ? and this leaders who are so far .. behind in their minds they believe that woman are the worker like the lions …,My friend Beatriz get books and going to schools to teach in the soil, helps young people to use condoms (many with AIDS ),etc .. but this help is a drop in a vast sea…

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