This is no ordinary August. In fact, it’s a bit of a double anniversary for me…
If you’d have come looking for me fifteen years ago, you’d have needed to get yourself to Chilubula, a small town about an hours drive from Kasama in northern Zambia, where I was working on a building project. In little over a month, about fifteen of us (aided by a fair number of children, it must be said) turned a pile of locally made bricks, more than a few bags of cement and a dozen tins of paint into a new school building. Pretty impressive stuff (assuming, of course, that it’s still standing).
It was my first taste of any kind of overseas development work, my first ever trip to the African continent, and it really got me thinking. Chilubula turned out to be a major turning point in my life, and set the early seeds for kiwanja.net a decade later.
Five years after Chilubula – August 1998 – I was well into my journey and in the middle of studying social anthropology with development studies at Sussex University. It was my second year summer break, and the little money I’d saved from an IT job in Brighton and some programming work at Jersey Zoo got me to Karuma Wildlife Reserve in Uganda. For three months about ten of us camped out in the reserve, carrying out biodiversity and rural livelihoods research. (Karuma Wildlife Reserve hugs the southern boundary of Murchison Falls National Park, and is designed to act as a buffer zone between the people and the park).
But it wasn’t all work. Here, Robert and I enter a small village during a two week break, and are greeted by a crowd of excited children. Part of the trip also saw us spending time in Masindi, a town I returned to earlier this year during my work with Grameen Technology Centre, and which also featured in the opening paragraph of my recent Vodafone receiver article.
My flat in Cambridge is littered with cassette tapes, masks, ornaments, paintings, photos, letters and memories from my many Africa trips over the past fifteen years. It’s hard to believe that it started so long ago, hard to believe the places that journey has taken me, and hard to believe where it’s landed me today. After all, none of this was ever planned.
Where next, I wonder?