Day 1 – getting to the Luangwa!

Set off early morning, to catch a train to Leeds, then another to Manchester Airport. I’d booked a first class ticket to Manchester (not so much for getting there, as when I was coming back!), and the journey went well. You have to use self check-in with Lufthansa, and even that worked first time, and I was in possession of a set of three boarding passes. First flight was to Munich, then Munich to Johannesburg (excellent lamb stew!), and finally Johannesburg to Lusaka where I met Alice, Rosie and Becca, who were going to the Pioneer Camp in Lusaka for the night, before going onto Mfuwe. Off, collect bag (which had followed me thankfully!), queue for visa, queue to change money, and into the most unusual capital city airport I’ve ever been to. The Mfuwe flight didn’t come up on the departures board, so I asked at the Proflight office, to be told it was boarding! Finally, got on board a relatively tiny Jetstream for the 90 minute flight to the tiny Mfuwe airport. Jack, from Croc Valley arrived, and we bounced off to camp. Met Sarah and Douglas, claimed a tent, and had dinner – then bed. End of day 1 !

Day 2 – Saturday!

3 2

Walk out of the tent to the view in the photo – hippo and elephants on the Luangwa river. Today other people started to arrive – everyone, in fact! As Sarah cut up vegetables to have with rice, an elephant appeared – literally – from nowhere (they’re very quiet!). The first thing we knew about it was a trunk coming under the gazebo roof, and sucking up all our vegetables. After eating them, it wandered over to the Book Bus, and helped itself to a coolbox which had once held spices – you can see what it did to it above!

Day 3 – Sunday


12 elephants crossing the river towards the park, around 6am. By 8.25, the sun was up, and the temperature was climbing (average around 30 degrees). Insects begin to buzz around, so it’s time for DEET!

Explored the bus, which turns out to be well equipped with masses of books and craft materials bought by Sarah, and donated by other volunteers. Everyone bought their own stuff though – you can nevber have too much glitter!

The laptop and printer donated by a former volunteer, and bought out by us (I bought the laptop, Cathrine bought the printer) is set up, and ready to go. Since the camp has free (slow, and unreliable – but free!) wi-fi, it gives us web access, but the most useful thing when creating resources is the photocopier.

Tomorrow, our first day in school – grades 7, 6 and 4 in groups of around 18. We’re working in pairs for the first day, so time to prepare materials!

Day 4 – Monday


Uyoba Community School. Grade 7 – Apes & Monkeys, along with a wordsearch, then ‘Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain’ with Grades 6 & 4. A good time was had by all, and we finished at school by 12.30. Stopped at the market in Mfuwe on the way back, and at Mayana, the local supermarket. Then back to base for lunch, and planning for Victory tomorrow.

Day 5 – Tuesday


Victory Pre-school. This time, as there are only 55 children, and they couldn’t handle a full hour, we split into two groups, and each group worked with 27 children.

The school was founded in 2005 by James, the head teacher (and pastor of the attached church), who has ambitions to eventually turn it into a pre-school and primary school. The kids were great – tiny & enthusiastic. We did birds – ‘Fly away peter’, and the children made finger puppets. This involved more glitter over them than on the bird, but a good time was had by all. Added to the mix was a version of the hokey pokey and a game of football (Zambia won 3-1, but since the head teacher was playing for them, it was considered inhospitable to tackle him!).

Elephants in camp again. In my limited experience, there’s very little more unnerving than sitting in a tent as an elephant or two wander past, casting their shadows on the tent. I’m amazed they could get between the tents without accidentally pulling out a guy rope!

Hippos continue to shout at each other on the other side of the river – although it sounds like they’re outside your door!

Victory, Day 2

This morning’s highlight so far – monkeys fighting on the roof of the Book Bus!

Back to Victory. Children were a little less well behaved than yesterday, but James wasn’t there for some of the time, and they know us a little now. We got their ‘welcome visitors’ chant again, and enjoyed making the caterpillars – looking forward to coming back next Tuesday!

Then onto a night drive, via prep for a second day at Victory tomorrow – the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and ‘We’re Going on a Lion Hunt’. This was the first day it hadn’t been sunny all day. It’s currently (3:25) cloudy and warm. It looks like it could rain, but hopefully, it’ll hold off until we get back from the park!


Saw a leopard – just sitting in the road, surrounded by several safari trucks. A young female who didn’t seem overly concerned by the attention she was getting. Also elephants (although they’re getting a bit common…), zebra, hippo, a Genet cat, white-tailed mongoose, crocodile, and lots more. This was followed up by quite a good steak dinner in the bar (K70 – about £9). We didn’t see any elephants in camp today, but they’d already been and gone by the time we got back.

Thursday, Week 1

Elephants wandered in to camp around midnight, and trashed the bin – they didn’t wake me up. The monkeys and baboons were noisy, but the big news was hot water from one of the taps for the first time!

Today, Grades 2, 3 and 4, followed by a visit to the Girls Club at Mfuwe Day secondary school – with lunch at the botanic gardens at the school.

Thursday, Week 1 (part 2)

The school we were at today (Chiwawatala Basic School) had class sizes of around 100, so we prepared for that number. 14 turned up. More from the other two grades (but not many more). It’s a government school with more appearent resources than previous schools, although teachers didn’t seem all that interested in what we were doing. Sarah suggests we don’t go back next week…

Bought a crocodile pendant made by Malafian Chimungu, a student at Mfuwe Day, from captured snare wire. He makes enough from selling the animals through safari lodges to have built a house for his family.

Sat in at the Girls’ Club at the secondary school, led by the estimable Eunice, who also runs Sarah’s favourite grocery store in Mfuwe. They talked about what to do if you’re abused, about a trip to Chipata, and we danced!. I was an honorary girl for the occasion.

The secondary school seems much better resourced than the primaries, but then children (or their parents) have to pay fees to go there – around $250 per term. Eunice showed us bags made from recycled videotape that the girls group was selling. They were astounding. They’re also starting a girls football team, and organising an exchange with a college in Adelaide, Australia. It was a very impressive event. Also had lunch in the school’s Botanic garden, planted by the Chipembele staff who live on the Mfuwe Day campus. They also had a Peace Corps volunteer, who does community outreach for Chipembele.

Friday, Week 1!

Malimba Basic – grades 4, 5 and 6. We had very small groups (3-4 children), but it went really well. The children were great – we also met the pre-school children, who took a liking to Stripes, my puppet. Did Goldilocks with Grades 4 & 5 (5 by accident), then ‘Why the Sky is so far from the Earth’ with grade 6. All was good.

Hippos on the sandbank in the river this morning (the whole pod), and later in the day. Sarah popped to the airport to renew her work permit. She was away a long time, and we were beginning to think she’d been deported when she arrived back, with an official visa.

4.30pm – Elephants in camp again this time, very close!



Early start (5am) for a 6am game drive through the park. Worth it though, as we came across a pride of 18 lions – two young males, lots of females and cubs. They’d killed a zebra earlier, and were devouring it. When we got there, they’d almost finished, with just the head and spine left.

Back for a snooze and lunch, then more relaxing in the afternoon. Then we cleaned out the book bus, and fitted everything in more securely (in theory – the test will be when we start bouncing down the roads!). an elephant, who presumably liked glitter, emptied everything out of the bin!

Tonight, a meal at a restaurant in town (Beef Fillet, chips and salad). Tomorrow, another early start for a walking safari in the park.


Walking Safari. Just four of us in the end Me, Helen, Cathrine and Caroline), with an armed guard. Interesting to get onto the ground in the park. We saw lots of different birds, various types of poop and footprints (including lions), and the remains of a long dead elephant. Back to camp at 10am to relax, clean up and start planning for tomorrow!

Just 6 days to go (including Saturday, which doesn’t really count as it’s basically travelling all day)


Great sessions at Uyoba with a mix of grades 2, 3 and 4 (and some others!). It’s a public holiday so we started earlier, and will finish early, so we’re then going on a tour of the local village). 150 children turned up despite it being the first day of their holiday. We did ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’, and it was good! Then a tour of the village near the school in the company of Mrs Zulu, the head teacher.

This was followed by a rare shopping opportunity! We went to Tribal Textiles near the airport, where they make hand painted textiles, and sell lots of other artefacts. Bought a small wall hanging and some postcards. Then onto Just Africa – founded by a German dentist and his Zambian wife, it’s an unusual combination – a dental clinic with accomodation and a craft story. the dentist has more ideas too – a mobile dental surgery and a maternity unit.

Then back, via. Mayana and Mfuwe market for lunch at 4.30. Tomorrow, back to Victory!


Kids at Victory as great as ever. Despite it being their holiday, 45 of the 55 children turned up. James wasn’t there, and the children weren’t quite as well behaved as they usually were. Despite this, a good time was had by all – especially as Sarah had books to hand out to all the children, along with some to give to the school.


In the afternoon, we visited the base of Chipembele, the organisation who fund Eunice and Ben at Mfuwe Day, and built the classroom the Girls Club use. It’s miles out in the country, and is run by two former police officers from the UK who moved to Zambia to start an animal and environmental education centre. They showed us the classroom, the library and the interpretive displays – bones, snares, poop and other anima;-related ephemera. We also saw the adventure playground, and lvarious animals they were looking after, including three monkeys. Chipembele, by the way, means Rhinoceros in the local language – it’s a reminder that there were Rhino in the Luangwa, but no longer…

Back for elephants before dinner. One rifled through our bin (full of other people’s rubbish) and another wandered around before they both wandered off – only to come back half an hour later.


If it’s Wednesday, it must be Kakumbi – the furthest school from Mfuwe, but full of engaged, committed children and staff. This time, grades 4, 5 and 6. A great day. The children were clever, well disciplined, friendly (as were the staff) and interested. Considering it’s as far off the beaten track as it’s possible to get (20 minutes down a tarmac road, 40 minutes down what’s basically a track), the journey was well worth it!


After a great day, another night drive – this time, we saw two leopards. One in daylight, and one at night. Also lots of elephants, hippo, zebra, hyena, genets, and a broken safari vehicle. The staff (from Flatdogs) were trying to push the vehicle, but the wheels weren’t going around. Moses, our driver, thought it was the flywheel (we didn’t just leave them to the animals – they were awaiting rescue when we left!). All this in Croc Valley’s newest vehicle, with a great driver.


Thursday – Becca, Alice and Rosie’s last full day, so goodbyes in order. Only two days to go until everyone’s gone…




Mfuwe Basic – the primary school which shares its campus with Mfuwe Day, the local secondary school. The children (all Grade 4) were great. We talked about bears, did a bear quiz and made bear masks. Also performed the ‘Little Red Hen’ (I was the Mouse) for the five children who turned up to the last session. It was great to be inside a ‘real’ classroom with a whiteboard!

After lunch, went to the Kenneth Kaunda centre, which gives free seeds, seedlings and advice to local farmers, and sells vegetables and fruit to the Safari Lodges. It’s run by a former scientist named Lyson, who’s also an expert on malaria, mosquitoes and the tetse fly. Always fascinating to hear a reall expert talking sbout what he does. We had juice made from the leaves of the Sweet Potato plant (unusual smoky taste, very sweet, but very high in vitamin A), and left with 5 huge, and slightly under-ripe, Papaya.

Last night dinner for the girls – rice, chicken, vegetable and papaya. Shared favourite memories of the two weeks. Just one more day!


Cathrine worked with Y7 at Marimba to produce an iPad book on their school, who are going to link with her school in Leicester. We worked with grades 2, 3 and 7. 2 & 3 were great (the Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where’s My Teddy). It was the last day of term, so there were smaller numbers for Grade 7 (15 in total), but a good time – as ever – was had by all. After dropping the girls off at the airport for a night in Pioneers Camp in Lusaka before flying back, back to base for packing, and a final bar meal with Sarah and Douglas (which for some reason took two and a half hours to arrive..)

Last Day…

Off to the airport for the 10:10 flight to Lusaka with Cathrine and Caroline. Turns out that although we’re going from the same place to the same place, Cathrine and I are on different planes all the way!

Lusaka Airport is more of a ‘real’ international airport in the international bit – a few shops, and a working departure board. Johannesburg Airport – met the girls again, bought books and T-shirts before flying back to Heathrow and then onto Manchester. It’s a long way, but I’d recommend South African Airways’ food and overall service!

The end (for now!)


Book Bus team, July/August 2013 in the Luangwa Valley. L – R, Douglas, Cathrine, me, Becca, Helen, Rosie, Alice, Sarah. In front, Biddy and Caroline. Sarah’s the Book Bus leader, Douglas drives the bus. Cathrine’s a year 5 teacher from Leicester, Rosie and Alice are sisters, and Becca’s their cousin. Helen is a kindergarten teacher from Australia, Biddy’s her daughter, and Caroline is a journalist who’d already done two weeks in the Livingstone project, and was going back to do two more weeks there.

Bits and pieces

The volunteers on the bus vary from a 17 year old sixth form student (Becca), to Helen and Biddy, coming fresh from tracking gorilla in Rwanda, and Caroline, who’s been on the Livingstone project.

Sarah, the leader, is very organised, and knows everyone. She’s been running CPD workshops with the local schools, so that they know about the bus, and she can give us ideas about what they want from us.

Class sizes vary widely, upto 150 (Victory Pre-school, for example, has 55 children aged 3-6, one teacher and a head teacher). Children usually come to school in either the morning or the afternoon. Primary education is theoretically free, but students need to travel to school, and may be asked to bring things (mattresses, breeze blocks) which they can’t afford – or they may simply be needed at home. As a result, classes can include students from a wide age range – children can start late, may have to take a break in their education, or may miss out for other reasons. As a result, grade 7 classes can include students from 11-17 (Grade 7 is roughly the same as Year 7 in the UK)

Zambia has two types of public schools – community schools are run and founded by the local community, sometimes aided by churches, or sponsored by a safari lodge. Basic schools are government funded. There are two secondary schools in the Luangwa Valley – Mfuwe Day is one. Secondary education isn’t free, and isn’t compulsory.

The language of instruction is English, which is taught from Grade 2.