Lutale

Lutale

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.

Reinforcements arrive

I do not recall the date, but it must have been March or April 1990 when I got up very early to go to the Lusaka airport for an important mission: to meet the first of the colleagues that would join the project. He was an Associate Professional Officer (APO) [1], called Bruno, a Belgian. He was arriving from his country on a Union de Transports Aériens (UTA) flight with a morning arrival time.

The day before I had managed to borrow one of the airport’s passes from FAO to enter into the luggage handling area, before the passengers entered Zambia. I also borrowed one of the FAO arrival signs, normally used by the drivers to collect visitors. I wanted to be absolutely sure to meet him, remembering my early Kenya arrival experience [2].

I was rather anxious because I was meeting a newcomer that would be critical for the project work and I did not know how we would get on. It would also be the first time in my career that I would have someone working with me in a project. He would also be bringing news from the FAO Headquarters, always useful information to get.

I arrived at the airport about one hour before the estimated arrival time, the pass worked and I went through security and stationed myself in what I thought was the most strategic place and I was sure not to be missed and I prepared to wait. The loud noise the “Jumbo” (Boeing 747) made landing at a relatively small airport clearly announced the arrival of the flight and soon the passengers started trickling in until the place was crowded as usual with people looking tired around the conveyor belt that, after a few minutes, jolted into life.

As usual, people started to get their suitcases and bags and walking towards the customs and exit. I waited, watching the flow while trying to spot my visitor before he spotted me! I had a few candidates in mind, and I kept watching. Conveyor belts are monotonous and often frustrating. This was the situation that day until two truly fluorescent bags, one rabid pink and another lemon yellow appeared and, for a while, distracted me but soon they were collected and it was back to the usual boring suitcase parade.

After about forty minutes the crowd thinned and, a few minutes later the hall was empty, the belt stopped, and the airport luggage handlers picked up the few suitcases that remained on the belt and took them away. No Bruno!

I had a good look around before leaving and confirmed that I was alone. Rather baffled I walked out, thinking what could have happened for him not to arrive. I walked outside the terminal heading for the car when I heard a voice behind me saying “ah, FAO!” Taken by surprise, I looked and saw a tall guy with a luggage trolley with the two fluorescent bags I had seen before: Bruno had spotted my FAO arrival sign. He was there after all and I was relieved!

He was not expecting me in the luggage hall but in the arrival hall, he explained and, not finding anyone in the latter, he thought that no one was meeting him and he was looking for a taxi to get to town. I took him to his hotel while talking about the country and the work that was expected from the project and from him as he would be in charge of the tick trial in Lutale, but more about that later.

Aware of the existence of the Zambezi River (although I had not seen it) I had purchased a Zodiac rubber dinghy (a very safe boat I was told) to be able to enjoy some river exploring and fishing. Convinced already that Bruno and us would get on, I invited him to go fishing in the Kafue river, close to Lusaka, the following day that happened to be a Sunday. Although it was not a good fishing day the outing was a good way to strengthen our connection, a very useful thing.

With Mabel, testing our new rubber dinghy at the Kafue Marina.

While Bruno was overlooking the trial in Lutale and settling in, I was devoting most of my efforts to keep the immunization work going in Southern Province, working with the Government personnel. I was rather stretched and trying to “push” FAO to recruit a Protozoologist that would take care of this work so that I could supervise the whole project. A month later FAO informed me of the candidate selected for the job and I agreed. Giuseppe, an Italian I knew briefly from Ethiopia was confirmed.

I also went to the airport when he arrived. This time, as we knew each other, the welcoming was easier and my confidence on the project success was boosted! I knew that Giuseppe was hard working and practical and capable of doing the job that he would in charge of. In addition, he brought more good news: another APO was being selected to work with him on the immunization against theileriosis.

Giuseppe got himself to Monze in Southern Province after a few days and stayed at the New Monze hotel for a few days until his personal effects arrived and he was able to rent one of the few houses available there.

The last member of the project arrived about a month afterwards. It was Anders, a young Danish veterinarian that went straight to Monze to join Giuseppe. The latter hosted him until he found his own place, something easier said than done. After a few weeks, he was lucky to find a house in the outskirts of the city. There we enjoyed the rural setting and having a few domestic animals around. I recall that he missed having fresh milk in the mornings and that he would get up very early to go to the local market to get it!

Bruno started his Lutale tour of duty staying at a small Government guest house used by visiting Government officials. So, he could only stay there for a short while. It had been agreed in his FAO briefing that, with project funding, he would build his own house and, after the work was completed, the future of the building would be decided with the Government. Chief Chibuluma, our host had agreed to this rather unusual solution so he started the building work.

In record time he had built a rather comfortable thatched-roofed house close to the village’s dam. The house had two bedrooms, an office and a comfortable sitting room. Electricity was provided by a generator until 22hs and he built a “Tanganyika boiler” that supplied ample hot water. He then announced that he was ready to bring his wife Dominique.

Tanganyika, Donkey or Rhodesian boiler. Credit to Kim Hannah Pearse, downloaded from Pinterest.

Very soon with Giuseppe and Anders we negotiated with George, the Director of Veterinary Services, that the expansion of the immunization programme would take place at an area known as Hufwa. Farmers there were requesting for assistance as they almost did not have calves surviving because of the heavy mortality due to theileriosis. They welcomed our proposal with open arms and the various villages agreed to build cattle holding facilities for the project to do its work. Soon we were flooded us with cattle beyond our capacity to immunize so we needed to improve our vaccine supply to cope with the demand!

The project had two drivers, Mr. Mutale and Mr. Chewe (not their real names) from the earlier project. The former was a city driver, used to move people within Lusaka. Although not noted for his fast thinking, he was an extremely careful driver that I enjoyed being driven by. Mr. Chewe, conversely, was very sharp and a true bush driver. He would not mind sleeping in the car if necessary and was able to make common repairs naturally. Eventually he was posted to Monze to help Giuseppe and Anders while Mr. Mutale remained in Lusaka supporting the project administration with limited field work.

Unlike the drivers, the former project secretary, seeing that no one was coming to continue the work, had moved to another FAO project. We needed to recruit a Secretary and we found Euphemia. She had experience working in a sister tsetse and trypanosomiasis project as the “second” secretary and immediately got going. Apart from efficient, she was also a very kind and good-natured person that brought her cheerfulness to our activities.

To me, she became invaluable as, not being maths person, I had difficulties closing the project accounts every quarter. I always had a difference that resisted my efforts to balance them for many hours and a couple of times, fed-up of fruitlessly looking for my error, I decided to send a driver to fill the tank with (for example) Kwacha 25.45 of diesel so as to get things right, something that the accountants in FAO kindly overlooked!

Seeing me struggling with the accounts Euphemia volunteered and immediately got the hand to it and at the right time she presented me with the draft accounts that, for some miracle, matched perfectly, a great help at the time! She got herself a new line in her terms of reference!

After a while traveling to and from Lusaka to the Veterinary laboratory in Chilanga, it became clear that there was no added advantage for the project to be there as we were occupying a driver and punishing a vehicle to get to a place that was difficult to reach and to communicate with. I talked to John, the manager of our sister project working on tsetse and trypanosomiasis that were also responsible for the Lutale training camp next to our project and he kindly agreed to also share his offices in town with us. This was a great move that facilitated the work and brought us close to colleagues that were also commuting to Lutale.

In the new office we had many project meetings and usually at lunch time we would order pizzas. Although these were acceptable to us, Giuseppe refused to eat them and always chose something else. The situation became untenable for him the day Euphemia ordered a “Tropical” pizza. When it came, the chunks of pinneaple were almost offensive for Giuseppe that made a great (good humoured) fuss and even moved to a different table to have his lunch! Aware of this, we sometimes ordered such a pizza just to watch his reaction! [3]

During the more than two years the project lasted, we also held periodic meetings outside Lusaka, close to the work areas of Lutale and Monze. As we had a good relationship, sometimes we chose a place at a nearby National Park at our expense to make the work more amenable by doing a bit of game viewing. During the meetings we would review progress, discuss options to solve difficulties and plan for the future activities. Our favourite places were Kafue National Park (close to Lutale) and Lochinvar National Park (close to Monze).

With Bruno (left) and Anders (right) at Lochinvar National Park.

As a neutral participant, I tried to moderate, often with little impact, the discussions between the three Europeans on European Union policies. However, the differences of approach between the Italians, Belgium and Denmark were such that it was difficult to find an agreement!

The game of French boules (Petanque) [4], promoted by Bruno, became the highlight of the meetings.The teams were the “Old” (Giuseppe and me) and the “Young” (Anders and Bruno). The game’s popularity was not because it was very exciting but because the reward for the winners of each round was a sip of a rather good Italian grappa, courtesy of Giuseppe. Of course, this was a double-edged sword as the more you won, the more you drank and the worse you played, making the game evenly matched at the end! DEspite this, the youngsters beat us at both the game and the grappa resilience!

While in Monze, we used the Monze Hotel as our base. Although it was clean, it had no water during the day and very often, no electricity. The water shortage was such that I would leave the tap open when I left in the morning and by the end of the day there was probably 15 cm of water for my daily wash! It had a restaurant that offered a choice of grilled t-bone steak or chicken and, frankly, I do not recall what dessert there was if any!

Monze Hotel. Credit John Y. Mvula. Screenshot from Google maps.

Zambia had a lager beer called Mosi and it is interesting that the manufactureer defines it as “Named after the mighty Mosi oa Tunya (Victoria Falls) Mosi Lager is the iconic Zambian beer. Brewed for over 30 years it’s Zambia’s number one thirst quencher. Mosi is a clean, crisp and refreshing lager with a characteristic pleasant bitterness, and a delicate hop aroma”. What they do not say is that in the days we were in Zambia there was a joke going round that spoke about its poor quality control. The story went like this:

A customer asked for a beer at a bar and finds a fly inside the bottle. He calls the waiter, complains, and gets another bottle. As he keeps finding flies, eventually the fly is removed and the beer drunk to avoid time wasting. One day, a flyless beer is delivered and the customer calls the waiter and asks “where is my fly?”.

This well known joke did not deter the Zambian customers at the Monze hotel that, on weekends, would sit outside and buy a whole crate of twelve bottles that they would place under their chairs and drink away the whole night! Of, course, they could not see the flies as it was dark and they drank from the bottles!

Sometimes we would dine at the New Monze, usually grilled chicken with rice or chips. As Giuseppe with the tropical pizza, Bruno would not touch the local fries, used to the amazing double-fried Belgian chips!

One of these occasions was rather memorable.

While having a forced candle lit dinner, we decided to risk the flies and ordered four Mosi, aware that they would be rather warm as fridges did not like the electricity interruptions and mostly died of a power surge. Although we were talking away, after waiting an inordinate amount of time, one of us went to the bar to remind the waiter about our drinks order.

Eventually the waiter, who was also the barman and cashier, came and brought eight beers and not the four we had ordered. We looked at each other in surprise and asked him for the reason why he had brought double the amount we had asked. Looking rather confused he said “sorry” and took the four extra away.

While eating, we noted that the waiter was really accelerated and that other customers (that we could not see but heard) were complaining about the service. As this was not unusual, we finished our meal and asked for the bill. Again we waited a very long time and, as it did not come, rather fed-up, we all got up and walked to the small table where the waiter sat calculating the bills.

When he saw us, clearly absent-minded he started to add up our consumption when we noted that the candle fell over and a stream of burning wax spread over the table. Oblivious to this, the waiter continued writing while the tablecloth caught fire and surrounded a paraffin lamp that was also on the table.

Seeing that a conflagration that could destroy the hotel was likely, we took action while the waiter still did not seem to be aware of his surroundings! As no fire extinguishers were at hand we grabbed another table cloth and tried to suffocate the fire while removing the lamp. Water was brought up from the kitchen and poured on the table. It was only when splashed by the water that the waiter oake up from his trance and reacted to join us (and other customers) in our fire control efforts.

The smoke attracted the Manager who got furious with the waiter and strongly reprimanded him. We learnt that he had indulged in the rather common practice of smoking “uluwangula”, known to us as marijuana! [5] Luckily for him, he was not sacked although after that night he behaved like a normal waiter!

[1] The Associate Professional Officer’s programme would fund young graduates through FAO with funds from a number of European countries such as The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, etc.

[2] See: https://bushsnob.com/2014/09/30/africa

[3] Afterwards, after eating in Italy for a few years, I understood his views fully!

[4] The idea of French boules is to throw a metal ball close to a smaller one called “cochonnet” in French and you score by the number you get closer to it. When two vs. two play you get three balls each and one member of a team throws first, then a member of the other team throws, etc. until all twelve balls are played and the round ends. Then you count how many points you scored and add to the tally of each team. The first team reaching thirteen points after as many rounds as necessary wins the game. More details: https://frenchyourway.com.au/how-to-play-petanque-rules-of-petanque

[5] Also known as “dobo”, the local weed strain is considered of very poor quality and although illegal at the time, it was very common in the local markets. Zambians preferred to smoke marijuana imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo that they called “Congo poison”.

Zambia. The real Africa [1]

Victoria Falls. Eastern cataract and rainbows.

Luckily for me after Ethiopia FAO had a vacancy in a regional tick and tickborne disease control programme in Zambia as the former Project Manager became the coordinator of the whole programme and was moving off to Harare.

I had visited the country in the early eighties to see the work that the tick component of the FAO programme in Zambia was doing as it was similar to what I was starting in Kenya. So, I knew one of the areas where I was going to work. Luckily, I also knew George, the Director of Veterinary Services and I was aware that he was a good man and committed to the work that FAO was doing in the country. So, I did not expect a difficult start.

I would be in charge of two earlier projects that were now combined into one. These had been part of a rather large programme that, for several years, had supported the veterinary department in several aspects of animal disease control. One component was the study of the impact of tick infestation on cattle in Central Province, both weight gain and milk production while the other involved the immunization of cattle against theileriosis in Southern Province.

The tick project was based at Lutale, a locality near Mumbwa, a town 160 km from Lusaka, in the Central Province of Zambia, on the Great West Road that runs 590 km from Lusaka to Mongu, capital of Western Province. Originally the place was devoted to research and training on the control tsetse and trypanosomiasis but activities, although still going, had shrunk to training of medium level technical personnel, also run by FAO.

At Lutale we had an agreement with Chief Chibuluma to have our own herd of native Sanga (Bos taurus africanus) cattle that were the subjects of the study. Our job was to continue the work for about two additional years, introducing a new group of cattle to which a new “strategic” [2] tick control method would be applied, and their performance compared with undipped and dipped cattle to obtain figures on the economics of tick control under the conditions of the trial.

The project office at Lutale.

Theileriosis was endemic in Southern Province and successful immunization against this disease had been going on for several years by the earlier programme, on the lines developed by FAO in Muguga (under the leadership of my ex boss Matt). By request of the Government, FAO was tasked with the expansion of this procedure to a larger number of animals in an effort to reduce the heavy losses that were being experienced there.

Gathering cattle for immunization against theileriosis.

As I needed to commute between Lutale and Monze, a town located 196 km south from Lusaka (in Southern Province) and in the direction of Livingstone and the Victoria Falls [3], I would be based in Lusaka, more exactly at the Central Veterinary Research Institute (CVRI) located in Chilanga District, 25km southwest of Lusaka, off the Kafue road in an area known as Balmoral. As we would reside in Lusaka, that meant a daily drive through a rather rough road. I realized that it was not the ideal place to be but I was in no condition to change anythingat the timeapart from getting on with the work.

It was an ambitious project that gave me the responsibility for work that had been done earlier by two specialists and I was stretched to the limit. Luckily, after discussions with FAO and the Government, I managed to persuade them that I needed help, particularly with the immunization part of the project and the post of Protozoologist was created for Southern Province. This was a relief but it would still take some time to find and recruit a suitable candidate. In addition, I applied to FAO to be allocated a couple of Associate Professional Officers [4], one for each component of the project. In the meantime and for a few months I was alone to do and/or supervise all the work.

Mabel and I arrived at Lusaka via Nairobi and stayed at Andrews Motel for a few days until we managed to find a suitable house in town. We moved there as soon as our first shipment with essential household stuff arrived, hoping that the rest of our personal effects would come from Ethiopia in a couple of weeks. So we camped at another house, again.

A view of our Lusaka house and Emmanuel, our cook,unblocking the gutters.

As usual, we were wrong estimating that our belongings would arrive soon. Well, some of them did but they were not very useful as, for example, the bed boards arrived but not the rest of the bed or the top of my desk came but not its drawers or legs! When we complained to the shipping agency they apologized profusely and promised to follow up the issue. In the meantime, we needed to buy a number of items for the house that we already had but we had no other choice.

Our first consignment of personal effects.

A couple of weeks later the shipping agency informed us that there was a problem with our shipment (oh surprise!): it had been crated in boxes larger than the door of the plane that flew between Addis and Lusaka! But they told us that they would be a larger plane coming soon and that they would place the remaining of our items on it. So it was that another part of our consignment came two weeks later and we waited for about a month for the final third with which we could finally assemble all our furniture and appliances! By that time we had succeeded in buying almost everything again!

It was during that agitated time that Mabel got pregnant so our life changed as we went through gestation to the birth of our children. As medical facilities were very basic in Lusaka, we needed to travel to Harare for periodic check-ups and the eventual birth of our first child: Florencia. Our son Julio Junior followed 15 months later so we had little time for safaris, apart from those we could accommodate with the on going work.

Searching for pictures to illustrate the Zambia posts I found that most of the ones I could find include our children so my Zambia posts would be rather poor in that respect, made even worse by not being able to move towards my picture “bank” in Harare because of the Covid 19 pandemic! So I will do with what I have and prepare a picture library for the various posts later if I find the relevant pictures. I hope that you still enjoy reading them!

[1] This was Zambia’s motto at the time to promote tourism.

[2] The application of acaricides was done according to tick infestation levels and seasonality to reduce its cost without losses.

[3] At the time, different donors operated in different areas of Zambia, the Dutch in Western Province, the Belgians in Eastern Province, etc.

[4] The Associate Professional Officer’s programme would fund young graduates through FAO with funds from a number of European countries such as The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Italy, etc