Gorges Lodge is set right out on the Batoka Gorge, commanding stunning views over the river below and Zambia beyond. It’s built on communal land and hires from the local villages mainly. There are no washing machines or dish washers – they believe in supporting the local community so would rather hire and pay workers than automate. That’s a stark contrast to us in the UK, where supermarket staff are being replaced with self-service checkouts, and small railway stations are having their ticket offices closed and replaced with machines. I digress; the point I’m trying to make is that the lodge specifically, and Imvelo as a whole, supports the local communities.
Just outside of the Lodge’s grounds, the traveller can see small collections of huts, inhabited by the locals. On the dirt road between the lodge and the main tar road into town, donkey drawn carts transport water and people between these little communes. There’s a definite and real “traditional African” flavour about the area.
This Monday, a group of performing artists (I suppose you could call them Street Performers) from Europe arrived at the Lodge. Most of them spoke English and French but we discovered that some were German, some where French, others British, but they all worked together in France. Some guests like to bring donations for the local schools; pens, notebooks, and other supplies. This group had a different idea.
On Tuesday morning, Karry, Debbie and I departed the lodge in the Land Cruiser for Chasuma School, a short drive away, following the minibuses carrying this group of guests. The school itself was a collection of small buildings set around a large dusty courtyard of Flamboyants (fiery ref blossomed trees) and a darkly humorous Sports Score Tracker made from a “Danger! Mines Kill!” sign.
When we arrived, the children were lining up for some greeting songs which they joyfully sang to their new guests whilst we moved the vehicles and helped set up benches. Once the children had finished and had organised themselves seating, the group leader began warming them up with some clapping call-and-response activities (making the sound of rain by tapping their fingers against their hands and clapping).
Eventually the show that the guests had brought with them began interest. A drummer, originally from Ghana, began the proceedings with a performance that again soon became audience participation; first by getting the children clapping, then singing, then bringing them out from the audience to play his drum. Eventually, he got a sort of accappela going with several of the students and teachers (much to the hilarity of the children) and then inviting other students up to dance.
Shortly after the drumming, the group was treated to a performance by a German juggler. At first, the show began with simple juggling of balls, 3 at first, including under-leg and behind the back throws and catches, before increasing to five balls. Whilst his associates grabbed other supplies, he filled the time juggling rocks from beneath the Flamboyant tree.
After a short display juggling balls “thrown” and caught in his mouth, he broke out the fire juggling, including some hilarious moments walking towards the children and near causing a stampede; and teaching one of the older students to juggle fire too – quite successfully.
Then the drummer came back in a wonderful Nyanga outfit of long fur and a full face mask with shakers and drums and gave a dance. Again, at first the children were frightened but soon they warmed up to the display. The Nyanga led the children, by flute, out of the school gates to the road, where the juggler was waiting with a 9′ tall monocycle.
Now, I’ve seen monocycle jugglers frequently in Covent Garden and at the South Bank in London, so I know the show – the “He doesn’t look too stable” and “He’s going to fall!” pranks are part and parcel of the performance – but I must admit that I had my doubts. The road through Chasuma is little more than Kalahari sand, dust, and sharp rocks, laced with “devil thorns”, tiny little thorns that are brutal when they get stuck in your foot (looking not dissimilar to caltrops). Karry and I sat and watched from atop the Cruiser and I’m pleased to say that the performance was just as good as I would have expected in London, made all the more impressive by the heat and road conditions.
Most importantly, however, was the fact that the children appeared to thoroughly enjoy it. Sure, it’s not something they could physically take away and enjoy, but I think the group considered it more of a cultural exchange situation, with both the children and the performers learning something about themselves and each other. Regardless, it was great fun.