The next day we planned to go for a walk to the nearby village of Livingstonia, once again set up by a Scottish Presbyterian missionary, who in typical zealotry named the settlement after his mentor, Livingstone. Out the back of the farm, we walked up a path through a forest of drachstegia and uapaca hovering over the steel grey granite covered in pale green lichen, up to the road. We turned right on the road and hiked through the hills and scattered subsistence farms where small children would offer to be our guides for a hundred kwacha. ‘No thanks, no thanks‘.
The impressive Manchewe Falls were on the way. After entering the gate, five guides descended on us. Despite trying to shoo them away, they just kept hanging around and started actually being useful, as the paths were a bit of a warren. Africa doesn’t believe in safety barriers, and after bouncing down a jungle covered stone pathway into the sunlight near the river I suddenly realised Sam, who was in front of me, was standing on a large rock at the top of a hundred metre water fall, a metre from the edge. He was fine of course, but I gripped his arm in a vice-like grip and pulled him back.
Our unsolicited guides showed us down a steep path by the falls to a cave, situated behind one of the small upper falls above the main falls. This cave was used by locals as a hiding place from slave traders in the nineteenth century. It made you shiver to imagine what it must have been like to be so defenceless, unable to prevent your loved ones being snatched away at any time.
On exiting the falls, our guides demanded their fees. I argued the amount hard, and they seemed disgruntled. I felt a little uncomfortable as the five of them followed the two of us on the rural dirt road, but nothing happened and they disappeared soon enough.
Livingstonia was a disappointment. I expected old stone buildings with character and stories, built by wide-eyed bearded missionaries who did amazing things because God was on their side. Well, there was a bit of that, but not much. Maybe back then God was having a bad year or two in this part of the world.
Including the walk to falls, we had been on the move for three hours and Sam was over it; actually so was I. I tried to negotiate a car back to Mushroom, but the price was exorbitant. We had a drink in a cafe of the technical college, which donated all profits to the local orphanage.
The Orphan Care Project was run by the Primary Health Care Department of David Gordon Memorial Hospital. The hospital had a catchment of 90,000 people in the poorest area of one of the poorest countries on earth. In their catchment, they had 6,450 orphans; that is, 7% of the entire population were orphaned children.
I spoke to the kind woman behind the counter. ‘Is this because of HIV?’
She replied without hesitation. ‘Yes.’
Walking back through the town, we passed the hospital and one of the local 4WD drives, used as a pseudo-minibuses in this neck of the woods, was parked outside the gates. The fee to get to Mushroom was a fifth of what we had been previously quoted and we climbed into the tray of the duel cabin utility.
Over the next half hour the tray and cabin slowly filled, and we watched loved ones saying goodbye to patients. A very sick and wasted young woman, sweating, shaking and struggling to hold up her head, sat in a wheelchair with a bronchitic cough and in marked respiratory distress. I postulated from the back of the ute that she had end-stage HIV complicated by pneumocystis pneumonia, but I suppose it could have been TB or cancer. She looked to me like she was not long for this world.
Her elderly father said goodbye to her before climbing into the tray with Sam and me. Soon we were joined by others, including three breast feeding women. Eventually there was eighteen people in the tray, eight in the cabin, a dozen or so bags or sacks, a car radiator and a chicken. Sam didn’t like the fact the chicken was being carried upside down by her bound feet.
He pointed. ‘Animal cruelty!’
Fortunately the man holding the chicken had no idea what he was on about.
We zipped and bounced along the bumpy track through large puddles, over protruding rocks and between walls of reeds and scrubby trees which flicked and whipped the truck and her passengers. I was sitting on the rim of the tray at the passenger-side back corner, so there was a lot of ducking and weaving of branches, stems and leaves. The Africans laughed and whooped. The chicken slept through the entire trip.
Sam, wedged between a mother and infant, the old man and the radiator, seemed to be enjoying himself. So was I; it was a hoot, albeit a bit precarious.
The only negative consequences of a great experience were I copped an insect in the eye, and Sam’s back was a bit sore.