Wednesday, June 6, 2007

50 Ways to kill a chicken...but I only needed one

Back in Mansa for two days to attend a workshop. I'm taking advantage of my time here to get on the net and post an update. Sorry it's so big, but that's what happens when you only get online once a month! Thanks for all the emails etc. over the last while.

I pass quickly down the dirt road on my motorbike, the tall white pines flying by on either side. I am in the middle small forest of these giant trees, and the sunlight just barely filters down. For a second it seems as though I’m back in Ontario, in the middle of the white pine forests of the Muskokas; but I’m not, I’m in Milenge, my new home.

I was quite surprised to find this forest, as I have not seen trees such as these since coming to Africa. There are certainly an abundance of trees, especially in rural Zambia, just not this type. I ask about them and learn that Milenge was once the site of a tree plantation, started by some British colonists at the beginning of the last century. They left shortly after Zambia gained independence in 1964 and the government took over control of the plantation. I am told that I am the first white person to live in the Milenge BOMA (British Overseas Management Authority – a term left over from the colonial days that refers to the center of government for rural areas.) since they left, and only a handful of others (missionaries, peace corps volunteers, etc.) have lived elsewhere in the district. I am indeed in rural Zambia!

I arrived in Milenge at night, so I didn’t see any of the drive in. All I know was that after almost two hours on the highway from Mansa, there is a 74km stretch of dirt road that takes you to the BOMA, right in the heart of Milenge district. When speaking of dirt roads I am not referring to what we know as dirt roads in Canada, which are smooth gravel roads where you can still maintain a relatively decent speed. Dirt roads here are little more than paths, full of pot holes that can be one or two feet deep and several wide. You can barely manage to travel at more than a crawl. As such, it takes almost 3 hours to travel the 74km from the road to the BOMA. It is late so we unload our stuff at the guesthouse, eat a quick meal by candlelight (there is no power in the Milenge, save for some solar panels) and then immediately head to bed.

The sight awaiting me when I open the door to my room the next morning is absolutely breathtaking, and I simply stand speechless for many minutes, drinking it all in. Directly in front of me is the Luapula, a wide meandering river. On the opposite bank is the heavily forested Democratic Republic of Congo. A handful of small home-made canoes and other boats slip silently by, fisherman up early to begin their work.

The BOMA, as I mentioned, is the political centre of Milenge district. It is here that the District Council meets, and here that the council executive has its offices, as well as the offices of the various national governmental bodies, from health to education to the office of the president’s representative. Most of the offices are clustered within sight of each other, in a number of buildings. Some solar panels can be seen, offering power to the three or four computers that can be found within the district, not counting my laptop of course. Yet one would never guess that this is the hub of the district. It is quiet here, startlingly quiet. The sounds that reach one’s ears are not those of a city or small town, but of nature, of being in the wilderness. The one striking contrast to this calm is the ugly red and white cell phone tower that rises above all else only a few hundred yards from my office window. When the wind dies, or is coming from the right direction you can hear the throb of the generators that run constantly to provide phone service to the area. I shouldn’t be so quite to judge this steel abomination however, as it provides me with my only link to the outside world. At times a blessing, at times a curse, this tower is the first step along the road to development for the people of Milenge district, and they welcome it with open arms.

As I’ve mentioned before, Milenge is a new district, formed only in 1997, and as such is quite underdeveloped. However I am fast realizing that it is an untapped treasure. Water for irrigation is abundant, the soil is good in most places, crops yields are usually high, and there is talk of a wealth of minerals and precious stones that have as yet gone un-mined. In addition to this, the landscape is breathtaking. The Luapula River is spectacular, made even more so by its almost untainted shoreline. At one point, in one of the wards we work in, the entire river churns through a series of rapids and small waterfall. It’s only a 10 foot drop, but still pretty impressive. I can already envision a nice guest house situated on the hill next to the falls. Given a nice road to access it from the highway Milenge could easily become a tourist attraction, a worthwhile destination for those already in the northern part of the country for the various game reserves and parks that can be found in the area. Like I said, an untapped treasure.

After spending my first days in Milenge living in the guesthouse, I have arranged to live with the Lwando family. Mr. Lwando is a driver for the District Commissioner, although the fuel situation in Milenge means that he does little driving, and spends his time sitting about hoping for a driving assignment and the allotted allowance that comes with it to bolster his salary. The fuel situation in Milenge is something that many have to deal with, my motorbike and I included. There is no gas station within 200km, and fuel is obtained from a rather entrepreneurial farmer nearby who buys it in bulk, has it brought by truck in large drums, the sells it for a profit by using a rubber hose and the tried and tested “suck and siphon” method. Lack of mobility not withstanding, Mr. Lwando is an easygoing friendly man. He and his wife are both very patient with me as I learn the culture and some of the language and Mr. Lwando regularly gets out the families large chalk board and sits me down for Bemba lessons. The have four children, although the oldest, an 11 year old boy, is living in another city going to school and I’ve never met him. The three girls are at various points in getting over their shyness towards me, but are all extremely curious and I think very excited to have a muzungu living with them.

Chishala is 9 and is quite shy, although I can talk with her the easiest because her English is the best of the three.

Chola is 5 and only occasionally remembers to be shy. Her excitement usually gets the best of her and she follows me around trying to understand what I ask her and giggling at my poor attempts at Bemba. I’ve noticed that her English is getting better even since I moved in two weeks ago, and her mother insists that it’s because she tries hard to talk to me. It doesn’t take much persuading to get her to sing a song for me, say a poem or rhyme she learned in school, or even dance. When she’s not doing that she’s hanging off one of my arms or trying to climb onto my back. I think Chola and I will get along very well.

Ruth is the youngest at 3 and a half and her mood is entirely unpredictable. She is normally the least shy of the bunch, often coming to sit in my lap (usually to fall asleep) as we sit around and talk after dinner. There are times however when she has trouble looking at me, and will hide behind her mothers skirt when I greet her. These times are happening less and less frequently however, and I think she is getting used to having me around.

The final member of the family is Mpundu. I don’t know too much about her, other than that she is an orphan and Mr. and Mrs. Lwando have taken her in. She is around 20 I think, and does most of the household chores around the house while everyone else is out at school and work. Mrs. Lwando told me once that she tried to get Mpundu to go back to school but she didn’t want to. I am working hard to build a friendship with Mpundu, which is both easy and hard at the same time. Easy because simply showing interest and giving a kind word to her seems enough to bring a smile to her face, but hard because she doesn’t speak any English and seems embarrassed by this fact and very rarely will approach me, even when I insist that she speak to me in Bemba so I’ll learn.

Life at the Lwando house is a constant opportunity for learning. I am up early in the morning before the rest of the family to go for a run, and despite my constant urging to the contrary, most of the house is up by the time I get back to help me prepare for work. As much as I insist they stay in bed, I am grateful for the help. The few mornings they have slept in I have been scrambling to draw water from the well, light the fire to warm the water, bathe, light the charcoal stove, cook something for breakfast (breakfast is typically rice, sweet potato, fritters, or something similar), dress and still leave early enough to make the 1.5km walk to be at work in time! I have started getting up a little earlier so as to at least have some of these things started by the time everyone else emerges. As such, my run usually coincides with the sunrise, which although early, is not a bad way to start the day!

On days when I’m not in the field I’m home for lunch, but on most days I just bring some food and don’t return until after 5:00. As with the morning, there is too much work to do to simply sit and relax. So, ignoring the urging of the family to sit down and let them do the work, I help draw water again, relight the fire if it’s not lit, heat the water to bathe again (flying down dirt/dust roads on a motorbike makes you pretty dirty!), or help with preparing dinner. I am slowly perfecting my Nshima cooking skills, although I have a long way to go before I can feel pride in my Nshima. I use these opportunities, sitting with Mrs. Lwando, to learn about life in Milenge, Bemba culture, her past, and also to share stories and information about Canada.
Our house is small by Canadian standards, but among the larger houses in the area. The Lwandos take pride in their home and ensure that is well kept. My room is tiny, literally the size of a twin bed with about three feet of extra space next to it. It is big enough however, and after having a set of shelves made it is just want I need. All of our meals are cooked and eaten outside in the “kitchen”, an open thatch roofed pavilion. Behind the kitchen is the well, and off to the side is the bathroom. This of course is used only for bathing. The latrine, used for other things, is on the other side of the house. It is beginning to feel like home, and I enjoying coming home at the end of the day.

There are countless stories that I could tell, but in the interest of space and time I’ll share just one, the story of my birthday. A few days before the date Mrs. Lwando asks me how old I am, which of course brings out the fact that my birthday is fast approaching. She insists that we celebrate. As my boss from EWB, David, is coming to visit on the weekend it is decided that we will celebrate on Saturday rather than Thursday, my actual birthday. On Friday David and I help Mrs. Lwando prepare Mkoyu, a traditional Zambian drink. It is made by soaking Mkoyu root in maize porridge for a few hours, then straining the entire mixture and allowing it to ferment overnight in giant gourds. It is a tangy drink with a bit of a kick to it, but it is good, especially when a generous amount of sugar is added to sweeten it.

On Saturday, while David and I are out, we buy two chickens. This in itself is an adventure, as we decide simply to stop at a group of houses in the middle of nowhere to buy our chicken. We are far from the BOMA, in one of the villages where nobody speaks English. With my very limited Bemba (I know how to say “We want a chicken”, “How much?”, and “That’s too expensive”) we succeed in obtaining two chickens for only a little bit more than a Zambian would have paid. After agreeing on the price the entire group of people (by now numbering over 30 people who have gathered to see what the two Muzungus on a motorbike are doing) sets out to catch the chickens. After a number of minutes diving and crawling about in the dirt, two small boys emerge from a bush holding some very irate chickens. We gingerly place them in the backpack, which doesn’t seem to improve their mood at all, and then we’re off.

Arriving home we insist that David and I will prepare dinner. So begins my first experience killing a chicken. David has lived in Zambia for over two years now, and is no stranger to killing dinner, so he coaches me through it. He holds the body, I grasp the head, stretch the neck, and then witness first hand the meaning of “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”. The commotion doesn’t last too long and the next step (after removing the feet) is to clean the bird. We place the chicken in near boiling water which helps the feathers come out easier. After plucking the chicken is finally starting to look like something I am used to eating. At this point we enlist the help of Mrs. Lwando to remove the innards of the bird. This takes some skill and steady hand because you don’t want to burst the stomach, intestines, or anything that comes after. I’m sure you can imagine why. This being done, we cut it into pieces and cook it.

Such is my birthday meal; home made Mkoyu, Nshima prepared by me, boiled canola leaves, and fried chicken. Upon purchasing our chickens David and I decided to name then, according to their efforts to evade capture. We name one “Fast” and the other “Slow”. Of course we’re in Luapula, so we translate their names to Bemba and they are now known as Lubilo and Panono. Tonight we are eating Panono. Lubilo sits by and looks on quietly, realizing that he is seeing a few days into his future.

I enjoy my birthday, sitting around with only a small lantern for light, laughing and telling stories, drinking Mkoyu, eating something that was alive only hours before. Of course this is a typical evening at the Lwando house. Dinner is a time for talking, teaching me Bemba, learning about Canada, telling stories and laughing. I have exhausted my repertoire of campfire and children’s songs, and the kids are dying for more. Old Macdonald is a particular hit.
While not without challenges, Milenge seems to be a good fit for me. It is peaceful and calm, and easy to fall in love with. At the same time, those challenges are always there to push me, to make sure that I keep learning, to always keep me just a shade outside my comfort zone.
Sorry about the lack of pictures of the rest of the family (Mr. and Mrs. Lwando and Mpundu) they were all out when I was taking pictures.


AiMeS_83 said...

Hey Trevor!

It must have been crazy to kill that chicken, but I'm sure it was really tasty in the end. I'm glad you had a good birthday! I can just picture you and the family sitting around a fire singing songs and having fun. I'm really happy for you! Glad you are doing well also!

Chris said...

Great post. Enjoyed the pics a lot. They are great shots. I am glad you found a family to set up shop with. They seam nice and its so cool they are teaching you things as well as letting you live there.

Keep up the good work. Let us know what your up to with work and stuff soon.


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for this post.. it was certaintly one of my favourites (although I do love them all :D) It was great getting acquainted with your village and new family! Those kids of absolutely adorable...

All the best!!

Anonymous said...

ps: the pictures are beautiful!! You are quite the photographer!

Kathy said...


I am glad you had a good birthday! We were thinking about you all day. Wow - chickens! When you get home and I make you Beer Chicken on the bbq, I'm just going to buy it at Zehr's okay? I know it won't be as authentic as your Zambian chicken...

Your blogs are amazing, and I love to read them. Thanks for sharing all your experiences with us! Sending you much love - from Natalie too!

Sue Titcombe said...

Great post, great title!

I wish there were pictures of you killing the chicken. I must admit I was laughing as I read your account of it. I just can't imagine you doing that!

Amazing photos. I look forward to reading your next post, whenever that may come.

Dana S. said...


I thoroughly enjoyed your posting. It was so enjoyable & well written. I could picture the children & you interacting & ohh-the poor Chicken!! I have to give you credit. I don't think I could be courageous enough to kill the chicken & then eat it. Your mom & I weren't busy at work today so we pulled up your blog & several of the girls had an opportunity to read your postings. They enjoyed them so much & couldn't believe how wonderfully you write. Belated happy birthday & once again thanks so much for sharing. Wishing you many more wonderful adventures & successes.

Dana S.

Anonymous said...

Annik said...


Sorry it's taken so long to put a comment on here. I've not read everything you have posted, but from what I've seen, it's been fantastic.

I need to get a hold of someone from the EWB Windsor Chapter as there seems to be a problem with a cheque that was issued last year. Could you please have someone from there contact me at Or if you send me a name, I'll be able to contact them. By the way, if one of the EWB members reads this, please feel free to contact me directly.


Bethany said...

You should be a writer! ...even without the pictures I could really picture it all (although it is great to see pictures!) Sounds beautiful. I'm really glad you're having a good time and that your birthday was good! I look forward to the next post. (Or I suppose I could read another of the older ones I have yet to read.)

love and prayers,

L said...

Okay, delinquent as I may be, I've caught up on your posts since getting into Zambia. I have to admit, I envious of your opportunity to learn this new culture and way of life. You seem to have an never ending motivation to learn from every experience, and still have the energy to recount it for all of us! I am impressed by that, and not a bit surprised. The river looks absolutely outstanding... and I believe the one picture is of an acacia tree? I'm in awe, really... Trevor... I continue to pray for you, for your health and for your motivation.... can't wait for your next update.


AiMeS_83 said...

Napoleon Dynamite: Do the chickens have large talons?

Farmer: Do they have what?

Napoleon Dynamite: Large talons.

Farmer: I don't understand a word you just said.

Ha ha...I thought of this when I was reading your blog.

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