Michael is from Mukungule, to the west of the North Luangwa National Park (NLNP), and each week he sets off from home on Monday, picks up his equipment and heads out on the road for the whole week, travelling from one school to another. His job is to communicate the importance of the NLNP and all the wildlife in it, and why it needs protecting to the local school children who live on the edges of the park.
On the three hour drive to the first school we chat about all sorts of things; his job, my job, the project, schools, conservation, and Zambian life in general. We discover that there are a lot of similarities between our roles – we are both trying to engage and inspire the next generation about wildlife and conservation, just in slightly different settings! Of course, there are a lot of differences too. The schools here don’t have the same kind of resources as they do back in the UK, which makes the teachers’ job and Michael’s job a lot more difficult. He tells me that sometimes there are over 100 children in one class. Something I can’t quite imagine (yet).
As we drive further towards Chama, the district we’re visiting, the roads get bumpier and bumpier. Michael tells me that when the rains come each year in January, the area becomes lush and green, and the dips in the roads are where rivers flow across them, meaning it’s impossible to drive to these schools for almost half the year, until the rains stop and everything dries up again. I can’t quite imagine this right now, as everything is so dry and dusty.
Still, we eventually come across the Luangwa river, and Michael lets us stop at a safe place so I can see one of my favourite animals – hippos! They are right in the river below us, but fortunately the steep slope means they can’t climb up, as they are big, potentially dangerous, animals. There are lots in one place at this time of year as there’s not so much water and they have to crowd together. It’s fun to watch how they interact – nudging each other out of the way, grunting, and having the odd little skirmish.
We hop back in the car and drive across the river (that’s how low it is). When it’s full of water this river is vast, but right now it’s mostly sand on the dried up river bed, with a trickle of water running through. On the other side the dense bush starts to open out, and we gradually start passing human settlements and tiny villages. Everyone is so friendly, and as we pass through we are met by beaming smiles and enthusiastic waves. I can’t help but smile and wave back!
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