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How it all started
I am not really sure how my life panned out the way it did. Planning and Organising feature heavily as key skills on my professional CV, somehow they seem to be non-existent in my personal life where my Motto is ‘why not? give it a go and deal with the outcome afterwards’
Life can throw some unexpected surprises and it certainly did that to me 8 years ago. How I came about radically changing my situation, environment and lifestyle was completely unplanned and off the radar but sometimes that’s how the best things happen.
The way I have lived my past 7 years not quite the norm but I would not change it for the world although maybe not exactly the sensible route for planning for a secure future! Initially at the age of 30 I was heading down the ‘married with 2.4 children, house, dog and a garage’ and relative normality. I did actually manage to perform a small percentage of this for a nominal amount of time – I think I made a year of being married before I decided it was not really for me and the cats and I moved out to start a new life which consisted of a very good job with lots of career prospects and returning back to my childhood love of horses so when I was not climbing up the corporate ladder I will climbing on the back of one of my horses and generally happy with four legged relationships rather than two.
Within 2 years of leaving my husband I managed to move house four times, had a number of horses and quite possibly twice the amount of relationships as I had horses! My Mum always asked ‘are you bored dear?’ when I told her that I was moving house yet again! I really was not the settling type however much I tried.
Then something unexpected happened that would take me out of my comfort zone for a number of years and certainly keep me from being remotely bored.
Within a blink of an eye I had swapped my corporate lifestyle, company car, high heels and make up for flip flops, limited electric and cold showers and a very warm welcome into a new community and way of life.
A certain ‘unique’ man walked into my life in 2008 and ordered a pint of beer from me while I was helping out at a local charity concert in the small village I lived in in North Yorkshire, UK. A very well spoken gentleman with a more than slightly eccentric look. Certainly not my usual type of man I am attracted to but still, he was very charming and variety is the spice of life isn’t it? He said that he was going to relocate to Zambia to volunteer for an Anti-Poaching Conservation Organisation in a small town called Mfuwe. This was a slightly different chat up line than I was used to and believe me I have come across a few! To cut a long story short about 3 months later I found myself on a plane jetting my way to this place I had never heard of to stay with him for three weeks.
I am lucky enough to be well travelled but not in this area of the world so I was sensible enough to do a little bit of research but Wikipedia seemed to be a little vague on this area.
Mfuwe is the main settlement of South Luangwa National Park in the Eastern Province of Zambia, serving the tourism industry and wildlife conservation in the Luangwa Valley. It is located about 100 km (62 mi) west-north-west of Chipata. With this very sketchy information and never even an inkling to want to go on safari in the past, this was the amount of factual information I based my change of a lifetime on – Remember My Motto – well I do it in style!
Being met in Lusaka airport immigrations by a tall redheaded ponytailed man dressed in an army jumpsuit was bound to cause attention from many people and that’s really how I have accidently seemed to continue to live life – causing a few stares and attention very unintentionally as what I do seemed just fine to me but now in hindsight – maybe it was not so normal!
So the adventure began… having some what I now call ‘best/worst’ experiences in my life. I cannot not separate the best and the worst as it all happened at the same time.
Unsurprisingly my relationship with him did not work out, he was unable to deal with the challenges living in rural Africa presented and left for the Swiss Alps to be a recluse – oh yes, I do pick them, taking a good percentage of my savings with him (that’s another story!) It was however the catalyst for me to find a new life as during my three weeks stay I fell in love with the little town of Mfuwe and a series of coincidences occurred in such a bizarre way you could not make it up.
Not long before I was due to return to the UK I was offered an opportunity that would mean me moving to Mfuwe – something to mull over and think carefully about? Oh no, as usual my brain and mouth did not engage correctly and I found myself immediately saying
‘Yes, I would love to come and volunteer for a year managing an Outreach Conservation and Sponsorship programme for children, living on a ground of a school where no white person has ever lived before and yes, I understand it won’t be paid and there is only sometimes electricity if you are lucky and water comes from a borehole and my clothes will need be washed by hand with aid of a stone for those stubborn stains, I fully take on board that you cant go out after dark unless you want to risk a confrontation with an elephant and yes its fine that my diet will be limited to maize, onions and tomatoes and no I really don’t mind that I wont taste cheese or chocolate again for a very long time, where do I sign up?’
Would I have gone if I had known I was going to suffer with bouts of malaria so bad I thought that my time was up? If I realised I was going to experience severe weather conditions with heat that stopped you from functioning properly, seeing poverty sickness and death of people I had become very close to? Probably not. I suppose that is the positive thing of rushing headlong into a change of life – naivety.
However, if I stayed in my safe and secure ‘Corporate bubble’ I would not have known I was responsible for enabling over 300 children to be educated with a number of them doing so well they are now qualified Nurses, Teachers, Mechanics and more who are role models for the young generation in rural areas. I would not know I had the ability to develop school infrastructure, manage building projects and be able to communicate internationally to people the challenges of education in this area and raise funds in order for these truly inspiring young people to achieve their dreams and raise the standard of life for them and their families. I also would not have experienced so many adventures plus the amazing friends I met along the way, experiences both wonderful, good, and downright scary, all making me realise what was worth worrying about in this world and what is better to let go.
Africa for me was not about the beauty and drama of the bush, the animals (although they do play a huge part of my experiences) but about the community and in particular the children who astounded me every day with their determination, not just to get through the day which is a challenge to the majority in rural Zambia but to better themselves and provide for their family. Their focus on family and community spirit was both humbling and inspiring at the same time. As my time in Mfuwe progressed and my understanding of the children’s wants and desires developed I made it my promise to them that my focus would be to enable them not just to find funding to pay for their school fees but to extend that to the next level to have the opportunity to attend college and find employment which was the key to success in the area.
Not at any time in my life did I have any maternal feelings, want to work with children, be a teacher or do anything community related. So how come even to this day I am known as ‘Mum’ to so many children and young adults? I think that is what I feel most proud of is that in my small way I was able to change lives, build confidence in these individuals that they can achieve their goals regardless of where they were born and have made a little bit of difference to this community.
The first night I arrived to start my new life in Mfuwe I realised I may have bitten off a little more than I could chew and through my tears by candle light (no power on the first night did not assist matters in any shape or form!) I resolved I could stick it out for a month without being embarrassed to go home as a failure. A week later I thought maybe 6 months would be fine. Six months stretched to 7 years and the stories to come will make you understand why I could not leave this challenging yet magical place I called home.
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