The day the Zambian soccer died

Eight goals to seven was the result of a nerve-raking one hundred and twenty minutes of a soccer final that defined the 2012 African Cup of Nations against Ivory Coast on 12 February 2012. Other African countries have other sports apart from soccer. Not Zambia. In this friendly central African country soccer is almost the only sport that people talk about. So, it is understandable that the whole country went into a long and wild celebration. It was in fact a national catharsis.

I was not there to see and participate in the celebrations, but I was in Lusaka almost twenty years earlier when, on 28 April 1993, Zambia woke up with the news that they no longer had a soccer team! Known as the Chipolopolo, they were a very promising Zambia national team. At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, they had thrashed Italy 4–0!

They had departed the day before to face Senegal for an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier but never arrived. The Zambia Airforce plane the Football Association of Zambia had commissioned developed engine trouble and it crashed after taking off from Libreville, less than a kilometre from the shoreline of Gabon.

All thirty people on board perished, including eighteen players, the team coach, support staff and plane crew. Luckily, two players were spared this tragic end. They were Chipolopolo’s captain, Kalusha Bwalya (Kalusha) that was traveling directly from The Netherlands (he played for PSV) and Charles Musonda (playing for Anderlecht), injured.

Somehow, I missed the bad news until I arrived at the FAO office and found an abnormal somber atmosphere and several of the usually cheerful people crying while most had red eyes. It was Angie, a young secretary that broke the news to me “The Zambia soccer died yesterday” she said with intense sadness. I was stunned as I was following the good results of the Chipolopolo and it had become (and still is) my favourite team in Africa. I realized that this was probably the biggest tragedy that independent Zambia had suffered.

So it was that I attended a two-day funeral, the saddest job of my entire career. The ceremony took place at the soccer Independence Stadium on 2 and 3 May 1993. Below, I include the programmes of both the State Funeral and Liturgy as well as the list of the deceased.

The first day, several national and invited political and religious authorities were the main protagonists of the morning events with gloomy speeches while we waited for the arrival of the deceased. Once this took place, the coffins were lined up around the field. After that was completed, the grief-stricken relatives and friends entered in groups crying, mourning aloud, and sobbing while they slowly moved towards the coffin where their dead relative was. It was a truly emotional time, and it was difficult to stop one’s own tears. It marked the beginning of a long vigil that would continue until the following day.

The second day was another highly moving affair. We were invited to walk past the thirty coffins (already surrounded by relatives and friends) to pay our respect. After this, carrying the coffins, we all walked outside the stadium to the burial site where today a monolith commemorates this tragedy at a place known as “Heroes’ Acre”.

During the course of events, I had a chance to give my condolences to Kalusha who, not surprisingly, looked completely devastated and exhausted as he was there for the whole time of mourning.

Despite the tragedy, a new side was swiftly assembled. Led by Kalusha and with a great attacking playing managed, against all predictions, to reach the 1994 African Cup of Nations final against Nigeria but lost despite having scored first. Despite the setback, the new Zambian team returned home as national heroes.

With the passing of time Kalusha coached the Chipolopolo team in the African Cup of Nations in 2006. He resigned after the elimination of the team early in the tournament. However, he could finally lift the African Cup of Nations in 2012 when he was the President of the Football Association of Zambia, a good ending for Kalusha’s illustrious soccer career.

Trip notes

Recently, our friend “Pinkshade” found notes from the past that included info on what we had seen on our safari to Ngorongoro and Manyara in 1988. As she puts it “It doesn’t seem exhaustive but it reveals the most that we saw at that time… including the (most probably) Black-bellied bustard and the Eulophia welwitschii (terrestrial yellow orchid)! And, the bonus is a map drawn by the warden himself to help us to find the spots! Historical piece!!! To which, very disrespectfully we added some of our notes!”

Ngorongoro & Manyara safari – Fauna and Flora lists – February 1988 (with 4WD, XRay, Khanga, ScoutSpirit and PinkShade)

Dried flower of a terrestrial orchid (probably Eulophia welwitschii), cf. picture below.

List of birds:

  • Grey heron
  • Black-headed heron
  • African sacred ibis
  • African spoonbill
  • Yellow-billed stork
  • Lesser flamingo
  • Abdim’s stork
  • Saddle-billed stork
  • Marabou stork
  • Cape teal (or Cape Wigeon)
  • Red-billed duck (or Red-billed real)
  • Spur-winged goose
  • Maccoa duck
  • Egyptian goose
  • Francolin (undefined)
  • Kori bustard
  • Black-bellied bustard (cf. photo in post)
  • Grey crowned crane
  • Spur-winged lapwing (or Black-winged plover)
  • Blacksmith plover
  • Pied avocet
  • Speckled pigeon
  • Mousebird (undefined)
  • European swallow/Hirundo rustica (migration)
  • White stork (migration)
  • Lark (undefined)
  • Fisher’s sparrow lark
  • African stone chat
  • Olive thrush
  • Fiscal (undefined)
  • Tropical boubou
  • Yellow bishop
  • Superb starling
  • Black Kite

Only seen at Manyara:

  • Hamerkop
  • Greater flamingo
  • Knob-billed duck
  • Long-crested eagle
  • African harrier hawk
  • Pale chanting goshawk
  • Crowned lapwing
  • Namaqua dove
  • White-browed coucal
  • Lilac-breasted roller
  • European roller
  • Striped kingfisher
  • Little bee-eater
  • Hornbill (undefined)
  • Ground hornbill
  • Wagtail (undefined)
  • Red-headed bluebill
  • Long-tailed paradise whydah
  • Weaver (undefined)
  • Red-billed oxpecker
  • Pied crows

List of mammals:

  • Warthog
  • Hippopotamus
  • Giraffe
  • Eland
  • Wildebeest (gnu)
  • Kongoni
  • Grant’s gazelle
  • Thompson’s gazelle
  • Buffalo
  • Grant’s zebra
  • Impalas
  • Black rhinoceros (4 individuals)
  • Elephant
  • Golden jackal
  • Spotted hyena
  • Lion (a big group and some scattered ones)

Only seen at Manyara:

  • Black-backed jackal
  • Baboon
  • Dik-dik

List of plants:

  • Euphorbia kibwezensis
  • Heliotrope (undefined)
  • Cycnium tubulosum
  • Hibiscus (undefined)
  • Hibiscus aponeurus
  • Pavonia gallaensis
  • Crossandra subacaulis
  • Commicarpus pedunculosus
  • Crinum macowanii
  • Commelina sp.
  • Eulophia welwitschii (?), terrestrial orchid (cf dried flower above and picture here-under)

Our picture of Eulophia welwitschii (?), to be compared with:

Only seen at Manyara:

  • Baobab
  • Euphorbia candelabrum
  • Datura stramonium
  • Lippia sp. (white)
  • Crotalaria agatiflora (Canary bird bush)
  • Spathodea campanulate (African tulip tree)
  • Kigelia Africana (African sausage tree)
  • Gloriosa superba
  • Erythrina abyssinica (Coral tree or Flame tree)
  • Calotropis procera (Sodom apple)
  • Solanum incanum
  • Solanum sp.
  • Scadoxus multiflorus (slightly north of the aera)

I thank Pinkshade for her contribution!

Night action

Insecurity in Lusaka during the 90’s was prevalent and, apart from daylight robberies like the ones I mentioned [1], there was the threat of house break-ins during the night, something that worried us a lot. There were rumours of armed gangs and shooting could be heard almost every night. Some of these were house owners that would deliberately shoot in the air as a way of advertising that they were armed. We also learnt that robbers were very brutal with the watchmen that often got killed trying to stop them.

The second part of my earlier post “The bowtie country” [2] describes our security arrangements in our house. In addition, we learnt that a neighbourhood watch [3] was active in our area so we were quite confident that we would have peaceful nights.

Our dogs did not bark much and certainly did not sound like the dogs that woke us up one day in the middle of the night. “Something is happening! The dogs are barking differently” were the words said by Mabel that woke me up. I immediately left the bed and, in the dark, I went to look through the window facing the front gate of the house.

What I saw was rather worrying. The dogs were furiously barking at the gate and, as there was no reason to expect friends at that time of the night, I assumed that they were robbers. So, as agreed with our watchman (Mr. Nelson), I blew the whistle for him to retreat while pressing our alarm button. Immediately, I also reported the incident to the UN security.

Despite the dogs’ fury, I saw a few men climbing over our wall, so I reacted fast and tried to get my shotgun just in case while Mabel continued watching the developments. As I did not (and still do not) like guns, I had dismantled it in the three pieces that I could detach [4] and stored it inside a trap in the ceiling, not a very convenient place from where to retrieve it in the dark of the night! Eventually I got a chair to climb on and retrieve it.

Despite its potential gravity, in retrospect the scene was quite funny. While in the bedroom Mabel kept watch peering through the window at the outside developments, I frantically tried to assemble the gun without success, getting my fingers pinched in the process and spending a few of my swear words in both Spanish and English. Outside, we heard a metallic bang and saw a man attempting to climb the front gate followed by another bang and the man disappeared. I was still messing with the gun.

Suddenly the dogs stopped barking and calm was restored. Then, we saw Mr. Nelson walking towards the gate holding his catapult, ready to shoot!

The calm did not last long as a couple of minutes later the security team, alerted by us by pressing all available buttons, arrived and climbed over our wall and gate in an impressive show of force. We were saved and I was still holding the three shotgun pieces in my hands while following the events!

We let the security team know that we were well and, after a thorough search around the house and garden, when they were satisfied that no one was hiding anywhere, they left us to attempt a return to our rudely interrupted sleep.

The following morning there was a lot of excitement among our employees as, while all the action took place, they were of course hiding themselves in various places around their living area. It transpired that Mr. Nelson, despite our instructions to join them in hiding, was the hero of the night by confronting the aggressors with his catapult! He shot his rounded clay balls at them (explaining the loud bangs we heard when the balls hit the metal entrance gate). I had seen youngsters at Lutale killing bushbabies with a catapult, so he probably hit one or more of the attackers as well!

So it was that the Bible-reading and veteran Mr. Nelson became our hero from that day on and that I put my shotgun for sale!



[3] A neighborhood watch is a group of people living in the same area that support the local police to reduce crime.

[4] I now learnt that what I had in my hands were the stock, the fore-end and the barrel that are meant to latch together.

Diplomatic duties

As I mentioned in an earlier post, after a while of being in Zambia the FAO Representative (FAOR) left his job due to sickness and I was given the temporary task of keeping the office going until the replacement arrived. Unfortunately, the newcomer took about one year to arrive, so the additional work burden lasted longer than I anticipated. It was clear that my other colleagues (some senior than me) had skilfully avoided this added burden! Despite this, it gave me a taste of this different kind of work that would help me in the future.

Luckily, the office had very capable people able to run the show on their own. However, rules indicated that someone had to be finally responsible and needed to sign the important documents. My added duties required two visits to the FAO office, mornings, and afternoons or, if my activities kept at my own project office, the work would be brought to me. So, there was no escape.

In addition, as the name indicates, I also needed to represent the institution in various events. That was a trickier job that I was not really prepared for. Again, Mabel, the FAOR’s secretary was very experienced and helped greatly. However, when the time came, I was the one that needed to perform the work [1].

I will not describe the exciting work of signing paychecks, official documents and attending management meetings but focus on some instances that stuck in my mind for different reasons.

In the early 90s South Africa, the main commercial partner of Zambia, was moving towards the end of apartheid and there was a strong diplomatic drive with its neighbours. Mandela had been released from prison in February 1990 and so it was that I attended several political events when President Kaunda and later Chiluba hosted famous personalities such as de Frederick de Klerk, Winnie Mandela and others, a new experience for me to see politics firsthand by participation rather than reading the papers. I can assure you -as you probably guessed- that my presence there had no impact on the on-going negotiations!

Support to Zambia and the region through projects was one of the important activities of FAO in Zambia. One of these was the launching of some support to COMESA. I was told that I would meet its Secretary General (SG) thirty minutes prior to the meeting so I had no time to prepare my speech! I had a mild panic as I was not familiar with the project.

When I asked for my speech to one of the FAO officers assisting me, she replied jokingly “a good FAOR always has a speech ready for any occasion!” As I did not belong to that selected group my shaky participation was nothing compared with the relaxed approach that the SG had. The latter was Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, later to become the President of Malawi.

I attended many functions and received many visitors during that year but only two of these activities still occupy a place in my mind. The first one was on the occasion of FAO’s donation of motorboats to the Fisheries Department. As usual, the ceremony involved me speaking first according to the protocol followed by the key speech by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

My speech was as usual a mediocre one and then, to my relief, I could sit, relax and listen to the Minister’s response. Then, I noted that there was something wrong. The Minister handed some papers to one of his aids and, by the way he spoke, it was apparent that he was not happy. Nevertheless, he gave his improvised speech, still better than mine. Later on, I learnt that his earlier displeasure followed the receipt of a speech for another event but, being a politician he pulled it through!

The second meeting involved the visit to the FAO Office of an Ambassador from one of FAO’s donor countries. Already before the meeting I knew that something was wrong just by hearing loud voices an afterwards looking at the face of my secretary!

The Ambassador marched into my office, hardly greeted me, sat down and without any introduction said “I can accept that a project manager gets involved in some additional activities but that he runs a petrol station is too much!” he uttered, clearly and justifiably angry, I thought.

Completely taken aback I asked him to give me more information so that we could deal with the situation. He mentioned a name that I did not know located at a city we had no activities! So, I explained this to him.

The Ambassador looked at me in shock, perhaps thinking that I was covering up the issue he was reporting! He then hesitated and asked me if he was in another UN agency office. When I explained that he was at FAO, without further ado, he stood up, muttered an almost inaudible apology, and marched off as brusquely as he had come! A few days later he rang me to formally apologize and to tell me that the issue had been solved.

There was still one final sad function I attended but I will tell you about it in a future post.

[1] In these instances I always remembered the phrase that Oscar Bonavena, a heavyweight Argentinian boxer once said: “You have a manager, a masseur who softens your body, you even get advice from the promoter, some of them take more money than the boxer himself; but the truth is that when the bell rings, they take away your stool and you’re on your own.”

Marriage agency

The origin of HIV/AIDS and what led to its emergence remain largely without a clear answer although it believed to have originated in West-central Africa from where it spread to the rest of the continent following the various rivers that feed the Congo River that flows past Kinshasha in the now Democratic Republic of the Congo. From there the disease spread and, by the time we got to Zambia it was a fully blown pandemic made worse by the prevailing poor living conditions and precarious health care.

While we were in Kenya and Ethiopia, we had only heard of HIV/AIDS, mainly as a disease of West Africa. So, it was with some surprise that we learnt that the disease was very serious in Zambia, and we were warned about it by almost everyone we talked to. Our main concern at the time was the need of a blood transfusion that was believed to be extremely risky.

HIV/AIDS was already prevalent throughout the country and the situation in Lusaka was bad. It was enough to drive past the cemetery to see that it had expanded several-fold with mainly shallow graves. Sadly, many of the Zambians working for the Government with the project were among those that suffered the disease and died while we were there while others passed away after we left.

The epidemiology of the disease was not yet fully understood at the time, or at least I was not aware of some details. In particular, there was a debate about the possible role of biting insects in its transmission. For this reason, Bruno and I were quite concerned while counting ticks on cattle being bitten by flies that would move among the people working with us! Luckily, later it was confirmed that insects were not involved in its transmission.

Planning for the imminent arrival of our children and following the advice of our doctor, we started searching for a nanny. Understandably, the number one consideration at the time was that she was negative for HIV/AIDS. Luckily this happened with the first one we found and that was how Annie came to our lives.

Annie with Flori.

She lived outside our house for a while until we decided that it was safer for her to stay with us. The arrangement worked well for a few months, but, as anything you do, it can have unexpected and even surprising consequences.

One morning, we saw the wife of Emmanuel (our cook) to walk towards the gate loaded with bags and personal effects. Aware that this was not normal, we called Emmanuel to ask if there was anything wrong. At first, he evaded our questions but eventually he admitted that he was having an affair with Annie and that his wife learnt about it and decided to leave.

Emmanuel teaching our son Julio to “drive” the vacuum cleaner.

We were quite upset about the whole thing as our well-intentioned keeping of Annie had broken an on-going partnership. On the positive side, though, it was the absence of children. The situation was made more worrisome as Annie seemed to be very young although that did not seem to be a concern among Zambians at the time.

So, feeling like marriage agents we agreed to the situation to continue as we truly needed both! This was, as far as we know, a good move. They were still together when we got in touch with them several years back and Emmanuel was working as a photographer in Lusaka. They had married and had several children. The first born was a girl called Mabel and one of the boys was known as Julio. So, we are still remembered in Lusaka!

Lutale scraps

Bruno invited me to eat at Lutale a few times but there are two that were rather unforgettable. As a necessary background to the story, he had taught his cook Mr. Tembo the art of preparing Belgian fries and, I must say, the cook knew what he was doing. For those of you willing to try them, the perfect fries are made by double frying the potatoes. First, they are cooked at lower heat, then left to cool down, and, just before serving, they are fried again at a much higher temperature. The resulting potatoes are perfect: golden brown, dry and crispy outside and soft inside.

Giuseppe and I happened to be at Lutale together and Bruno invited us to have roasted chicken for lunch, so we obliged, and we were at the table without a minute wasted. Bruno started our get together by announcing that there had been a delay obtaining the chicken! He had “ordered” one from the village, but it had not arrived yet.

However, he added that Mr. Tembo would be bringing fried potatoes and mayonnaise for us to start eating. When they came, the fries were truly delicious and being hungry, the first instalment did not last very long. Luckily Mr. Tembo soon brought more. After the third potato delivery, the chicken was still absent and probably some boys were running after it in the bush! Luckily, the chips kept arriving so we kept ging for them.

After about an hour waiting we were full of chips, and then we heard a loud squawk that announced the arrival of our future lunch, still alive and well! At that time, we unanimously decided that our intended victim could live another day and we re-focused on the delicious fries. I cannot guess the amount of potatoes Mr. Tembo processed but I am sure that we went through a few kilogrammes. As protein-free diets go, it was a great success!

Another time Bruno invited me for dinner at a time when I was helping him with some of the work. I went to his house eager to try the fries again and this time Bruno was keen to announce that the menu was complete and almost ready.

Soon a smiling Mr. Tembo appeared with a large smoking tray that he placed on the table. My eyes immediately focused on the fries and my mouth watered when I confirmed that they looked as well as before! However, it immediately dried up when I saw the protein part of the dish. It had four legs and the size of a small rabbit! “We are having a cane rat for lunch” Bruno announced proudly although I could sense a touch of sarcasm in the tone of his voice.

I had eaten different animals in Latin America and in Africa before but never a large rat! However, I immediately recalled that our Zambian workers could jump out of a moving car whenever they saw one of these beasts on the road so I thought that it should be good and that was what Bruno was saying when I refocused on our meal.

The meat was white with a taste close to a roasted piglet, and I must say that its combination with the fries made it one of the best bush meals I have had. Mr. Tembo brought back a tray where only bones remained!

Traveling to Lutale had its moments too. Of the two drivers, I preferred Mr. Chewe for the bush as he knew the area and had good mechanical knowledge. The problem was that he drove with his eyes squinting and I usually joked with visitors that he knew the place so well that he could drive with his eyes closed! Mr. Chewe liked to hear this but always tokd me that it was not true.

He had them well open a day when, in the dirt road getting close to Lutale, a snake started to cross the road in front of the car. It moved extremely fast but not fast enough. By the time we got to it, it occupied the whole width of the road! The snake, that I am sure was a black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) was moving from right to left and when we run over it, almost all of it had moved across. However, when it felt the wheels, it rose high, almost vertically.

A black mamba is really grey. Its name is due to the dark blue/black colour insde its mouth. Credit:TimVickers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I saw the head coming towards us but the speed of the events was such that I could not react fast enough and only watched it striking the outside mirror, a few centimetres from my arm. A lucky scape that enabled me to continue with my life! I was so shaken that I did not even feel sorry for the snake that, after the incident, we saw continuing its trip through the dry thicket. It was the only black mamba I saw in Zambia.

The dam at Lutale was an important feature for the village life as it offered permanent water as well as relief from the heat. Somehow Bruno had acquired a “banana” boat (dugout) that he kept moored near his house. I am sure he kept for a reason that was not solely to enjoy himself by inviting guests to climb on it and then pushing them gently into the dam while they desperately tried to keep the boat from tipping over!

There were large catfish in the dam and the locals were after them. A fisherman myself, I spent some time watching them. The technique they used was as simple as effective. It consisted of a 5-litre can from which a line and a large hook would be tied and baited with a chunk of chicken or any other animal protein available.

The cans were thrown into the dam and then followed in their floating across the dam until they started to bobble, indicating that a fish was feeding. When it got hooked, the can would start to travel and that was the time when the fishermen would go either on foot or in their dugout canoes to pick up their prey. A very ingenious way of fishing in closed water areas.


The project’s theileriosis immunization work took place in the Monze area of the Southern Province of Zambia. So, Monze became one of my most visited places while in Zambia. Usually, I stayed at the New Monze hotel that offered very basic facilities but warm people that made up for this shortcoming. After Giuseppe and Anders arrived and found houses, I stayed with them whenever they had room for me.

Apart from our rather weird evening at the New Monze [1] the hotel only had a trickle of water coming out of its taps and, although morning ablutions were possible as water accumulated overnight, bathing was another story (it had no showers). So, I left the tap open for the whole day and by the evening I had collected sufficient water to have a (cold) bath (better than no bath!).

Another attraction of the hotel was a bar/disco that functioned next to the hotel and that, particularly on weekends, was “the place” to be in Monze. Although I did not frequent it very often, on occasions I would get an invitation to enjoy a Mosi beer there. It was at that time that I observed the customers of the bar to order not one beer but a crate! They would then carry it with them, place it under their chair and enjoy its contents with the results that you can imagine!

Beer was indeed an important part of Zambian life (as in other African countries as well) and I always thought that there would be severe riots if the beer trucks were not able to deliver their cargo to the various destinations around the contry!

Our activities took place in Hufwa, an area, about twenty kilometres from Monze. The place was chosen because the farmers there were suffering severe losses from theileriosis. The calf mortality was such that there were not enough to keep the cattle numbers going! As in other countries affected by theileriosis, as a last resort, they would cauterize the swollen lymph nodes of their cattle in an attempt at saving them.

An animal showing a healing cauterized lymph node. (Picture by Giuseppe).

The approach we used was not a conventional vaccination, but a process known as the “infection and treatment” method. You would inject a small (calibrated) dose of the live parasite and, at the same time, a drug (tetracycline) that would control the multiplication of the Theileria parasite allowing the immunity to take hold. The result, after about a month, was a protected animal!

The Theileria parasites being injected.
Tetracycline being injected.

Not surprisingly, when the Government with our support offered to immunize their calves, the demand went beyond our expectations and we received requests from many other areas that we could not attend because our funds were limited. Most villages in Hufwa were willing to immunize their young animals and, before we could start we held several meetings with the cattle owners to organize the work.

Early mornings in Zambia can be quite cold.

Villages were grouped by area, asked to build cattle holding pens and given a time and date to bring their animals to the newly build holding facilities. Most villages complied and the work went usually smoothly. Despite this, I recall a “rebel” village that refused to come and, when we arrived to do the work, there was still a gap in the pen where that village was meant to do the building! [2]

The newly built crushpen holding the cattle.

Government veterinarians, supported by Giuseppe and Anders worked hard and soon they have covered most of the population of the area and we started to monitor the health of the immunized cattle while all newly born calves were immunized once they reached the right age. The results were very promising and, after a couple of years, there was an important increase in the cattle population, although the animals were still suffering from other diseases.

Giuseppe was the first to come to live in Monze and rented a house in town while, later, Anders found a house in the outskirts of the city. His house had a bit of land and he kept chickens and turkeys for meat and eggs as he liked to eat fresh food. Giuseppe, like any good Italian (including my wife), was a great cook and, of course, he brought with him lots of pasta, tomato sauce and other Italian specialties to “survive” in the bush.

Although house security in Monze was better than in Lusaka, there were some robberies taking place, so he recruited a night watchman that, as most do, went to sleep immediately after the house activities stopped. Giuseppe was very tolerant of this until one day that we were returning from dining at a friend’s house, quite late at night.

As usual, Giuseppe hooted at the gate and waited for it to be opened. When this did not happened after he hooted three or four times, an upset Giuseppe decided to investigate and he climbed his house perimeter fence to go inside. As we stayed outside, we could not see the events but only heard what happened. “Mr. Mishet, Mr. Mishet” called Giuseppe while looking for the man, while we thought we heard someone snoring!

After some silence, we heard someone muttering an unclear answer coming from someone that just wakes up and then more from Giuseppe “you were sleeping” followed by a more clear negative reply! Eventually Mr. Mishet, sleep walked to the gate and opened it for us to enter. The following morning, Mishet had already left by the time we got up so, by the time he returned in the evening, Giuseppe had cooled down and he only gave Mr. Mishet a reprimand that worked for a while.

As expected with a watchman that did not stay alert, eventually the house was broken during one of Giuseppe’s absences. Luckily, he was keeping his valuables well-hidden, and the robbers only took small items such as food from the fridge, stationery and other small items. When Giuseppe went to report the incident at the police station, his hopes of the robbers being caught were rapidly dashed when he recognized one of his favourite pens being used by the policeman to write the robbery report! He did not say anything, finished the report, got his copy and walked home to continue with his life.

[1] See:

[2] After the first year of immunizing cattle in the area, seeing that most of the calves survived, the Headman of that village came to plead with us to immunize their animals. We did.


As I already mentioned, we worked at two sites in Zambia: Lutale in Central Province where we did our long-term tick impact studies and Monze in Southern Province where we immunized cattle against East Coast fever (theileriosis). Lots of interesting things took place during that time, and I will attempt to describe some of them ones.

I was more involved with the work on ticks at Lutale as this was my field. Luckily, I needed to take care of Lutale on my own for only a few weeks as the new Associate Professional Officer (Bruno) arrived. He gradually took over the activities there leaving me time to coordinate the two components of our project. Then, I could visit both sites if necessary.

However, as it usually happens, once I managed to get things organized and going smoothly, another development emerged to complicate my life again. The FAO Representative (FAOR) suffered severe medical problems and he could not continue performing his duties. I was given this additional responsibility that added another office to manage increasing the time I spent indoors. My time for field work was regrettably reduced until the new FAOR arrived, about one year later.

Lutale was a populated rural area located in Mumbwa District, Central Province. For some reason that I ignore, the area was chosen to establish a field station devoted to the research on tsetse and trypanosomiasis years before my arrival. Later it became a regional training centre for middle-level tsetse and trypanosomiasis control. That was its situation when I arrived and our tick project had been placed there by Rupert, our predecessor, that had started the work about three years earlier.

The Lutale field station. The steps to the left of the pick-up took you to an open air office on top of a hill!

Lutale was under the authority of Chief Chibuluma that lived nearby, and our project was well integrated into the local rural setting as we employed people from the village to help with our activities. Although we sold the milk our cows produced milk in Mumbwa, the villagers had priority and got milk every day. The village also had meat when we slaughtered our surplus animals.

Chief Chibuluma at one of the parties.

The aim of the work was to determine the impact of cattle under local conditions. Fortunately, water was not a problem as there was a dam that had water all year round. Grazing was another issue as it was very poor during the dry season, particularly towards the end. The scarcity of grass, even straw, forced the cattle to eat the thatched roofs of our office buildings. Although this is amusing now, it was an issue at the time as we always feared that our animals would starve. A lesser problem was that re-thatching was needed every year!

We had a very good rapport with Chief Chibuluma and his family and we even employed a couple of his sons to work with us. The Chief had a very good rapport with Bruno and he also enjoyed my visits as I would sometimes bring some whisky that we enjoyed together sitting under the thick shade of a mango tree at his house while his family went about their business.

Unfortunately, he had some problem with his legs and could not walk very well. However, this did not stop him from moving as he had developed an inventive but also amusing way to overcome this difficulty. As the rugged terrain was not suited for a wheelchair (that would surely have ended up stuck in a culvert during the dry season or in the mud during the rains), he moved about by bicycle. However, he did not pedal but was pushed around by one of his teenage sons while he happily drove to his destination!

Bruno was a hands-on person and he built his own house at the station, close to the dam. The building progressed fast and soon he had a very good house, complete with a living area (sitting room, bedrooms, kitchen, and toilet) as well as an office/laboratory. The place had plenty of hot water virtue of a Tanganyika boiler as well.

Soon his wife Dominique arrived and, like us, they also had their children born in Zambia, the very blond Tiffany and Collette that had an African village early childhood that unfortunately they do not remember! As soon as they were able to walk, they intermingled with the local children, and it was nice to see them playing, totally oblivious of any racial hang-ups.

There was a lot of work at Lutale to keep our observations going. We were comparing three different tick control methods on cattle liveweight gain and milk production as well as keeping records of the tick burdens of each animal. Milking and weighing the animals was rather straightforward but tick counts demanded intensive work that usually lasted a whole morning or even the entire day, depending on the number of ticks present.

All cows were milked daily, and the production recorded for each cow. Further, once a month all cows were inoculated with the hormone oxytocin. This produced milk let-down and a measurement of total daily milk production was hence achieved. Milk and surplus meat and live cattle sales made a profit that we re-invested in the project (paying salaries, repairing the project facilities and other expenses).

Our main way of disposing our surplus cattle was not slaughtering them but selling them live through a yearly auction. This had gone on for a few years and it had become an event that the farmers around the area waited to happen. Apart from the Lutale people, farmers as far as Mumbwa and Namwala would come to get animals as our auctions were based on the weight of the animals sold. In addition, as none of us were auctioneers, we decided to do it through secret bidding by issuing the buyers with “bidding papers” for them to place their offers.

Auction days were busy but also fun as they allowed us to meet with the local farmers and listen to their experiences and challenges. People would arrive early, and we were kept active making sure that the cattle were displayed in order. We invited the administrator of the Ministry of Agriculture to audit the procedure and to help us handling the money and depositing it in the bank.

Once the sales were completed it was time to open the bids and call the “winning” farmers to pay so that we issued them with a receipt so that they could take the animal(s) away. As the Kwacha was rather devalued at the time, we usually ended up with an inordinate amount of paper notes that were eventually spread on a table and painstakingly (but as fast as we could) counted. The work usually ended after sunset!

Not all was tick work at Lutale, there was some medical and detective activities as well as fun. Because we had vehicles, we often functioned as improvised ambulances taken patients to the Mumbwa hospital. Although most women had their babies at home, there were difficult births that required our help, almost always late at night!

A large herd of cattle is tempting, and we had a few incidents of rustling. I recalled one where we lost six of our experimental cows, a fact that could have seriously affected the results of our study. Hoping that they had not yet been slaughtered, we launched a rather desperate search, together with the police.

We drove many kilometres around Lutale without any luck and then we decided to extend our search towards Namwala through a very bad road looking for them until we eventually spotted them in a field. As usual the culprits were not found but we did not care as we had “saved”!

As for the fun, once a year we would organize a large party for the whole village for which we would slaughter a steer (we had a few reserved for such occasions) and brought chibuku [1] for the people to “refresh” themselves. We would get the brew in Lusaka and carry several hundred litres in the back of a truck from where it would be dispensed in rather large “glasses” [2]. This usually ended up with quite a number of invitees getting drunk and falling sleep around the bush as it happens in these kinds of occasions.

Mabel and I participated in a couple of parties where, together with Chief Chibuluma, Bruno and other project staff we were the “guests of honour”. In one occasion we took our daughter Flori and she stole the show. It is well known that Africans are extremely kind to children and a white baby was a novelty and people were extremely curious about her. Before we realized they took her away from Mabel! She was then passed around so that everybody could see and touch her. She seemed to enjoy the process that lasted for quite a while!

[1] Chibuku is a beer made of sorghum with an alcohol content that when fresh is low (0.5%) but that increases as the brew ferments reaching 3-4.5%. Brownish in colour, it is not filtered and therefore it contains quite a bit of solid stuff, and it needs to be shaken before drinking.

[2] Two to five-litre containers cut across the top keeping the handles.

Car robbery!

I have already described our misfortune regarding our first car in Zambia (see: and now comes the end of the story.

I have already mentioned that at the time we were there, Lusaka was rather insecure. The situation did not spare us.

It happened when Mabel, heavily pregnant with our son, accompanied by our daughter Flori (about one year old) were returning home after a shopping trip. As usual, on arrival to our gate she stopped the car and hooted, waiting for Lemek (the gardener) to open it. While she waited, two men approached the car and, pointing a gun at her, asked her to give them the car.

Despite her initial shock, Mabel managed to lock the doors and, showing great courage, told them to go away! Unfortunately, as expected, the robbers not only did not move but became increasingly aggressive, so she decided to give them the car as they were becoming violent and threatening to shoot her. It was at that time that Lemek opened the gate and closed it immediately, fearing that they would go inside and attempt to steal one of the cars parked inside or even to break into our house.

So, Mabel was on her own with the robbers! While agreeing to hand over the car, she unstrapped Flori from her child seat and left the car while pleading with the robbers (to no avail) to allow her to take her handbag and even her shopping!

So, the moment she opened the door she was grabbed by the arm and pulled out with the gun still aimed at her. Luckily, she was not injured physically but it took her a while to recover from the scare that she experienced.

So it was that our car that had started its life giving us problems disappeared from our lives and left us with the money of the insurance. Luckily, we managed to find a replacement very fast. It was another Land Cruiser and, despite being older, it was much more comfortable. We soon forgot the stolen car and enjoyed our “new” one with which we did most of our travel until we departed [1].

Our replacement car during a trip to Namibia in 1992.

The robbery was still fresh in our minds when a copycat one took place about ten days later. This time the victim was our colleague and friend Giuseppe. Unfortunately, he was being driven by Mr. Mutale and the latter tried to resist the attackers. He was punched on the nose by the robbers but, luckily, nothing else happened, considering that robbers were rather rough on the local people. This time it was Giuseppe that got traumatized and needed to get through the insurance claiming process and to get a replacement car.

After that spell, we tightened the security measures at the house and, fortunately, no more cars were taken! Although shocking at the time, it was a small price to pay for two armed robberies!

[1] We left Zambia for Italy, so it was with great regret that I sold the car. A young Italian bought it and also got attached to it. When he was transferred to Kenya a couple of years later, he took the car with him and enjoyed for a few more years.

Spot the beast 81

Winter is not the best season to spot beasts at our farm in Salta, Argentina. Today was, however, an exception and we came across this beast that I would like you to spot and then I will give you more details about it.

To find the beast above is very difficult so I put a close-up to help you seeing it better:

I am quite sure that you have now find it. it is a Rococo toad (Rhinella schneideri) [1] that Mabel unearthed while shifting a pile of sand to build a carport at our farm. Luckily it was alive and unharmed but amazingly flaccid, clearly hibernating.

A cleaner toad for you to see better.
“Side B” of the toad.

This rococo had buried itself at the start of the winter, probably in mid May as the winter started early this year and it will resurface when the warmer temperatures arrive in September/October. We re-buried it as well as we could and marked the site so that we can watch it emerging when the first warm days arrive.

The following short videos give more details of the find and the condition of the toad.

These are the pictures of an active toad found in the back patio of our farmhouse earlier this year that I used to illustrate my earlier post on this animal (see [1]). Apart from its rather impressive size, I find its clear eyes truly amazing.

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[1] See: for more info.