While wildlife was becoming more active, human activity was winding down – the landing site that was so busy when we left was now wrapping up – we could see only a few stragglers with their chattels waiting for their lorry lifts to town or the boat lifts back to the swamp villages.
Our convoy headed back through Lochinvar park over the bumpy narrow tracks; it was not surprising that our steering rods bent. The thought of being stranded out here in the bush overnight was not appealing and we still had one more meeting and we limped on.
It was dark as we approached the little village at the gate to Lochinvar Park. We drove off the main road and stopped outside what could pass for a modest 3 bedroom house in the outskirts of Lusaka. Compared to most of the dwellings around it, this was high class though, with glass in the windows, concrete veranda and painted tin roof. The garden was more ornamental than functional. This was the Chief’s palace, not just the headman of the village but clan head for a large chunk of the Kafue Swamp. Alphart had sweated about this meeting; he wanted us to observe the proper protocol, which included giving the chief a gift, but our project was funded by the EU who had very strict rules about corruption. We could not hand money over, and we had to judge what was a respectful offering. In the end, Alphart had purchased a medium sized bag of mealy-meal in Monze, and he got it out the car as we tucked our shirts in and tried to look as respectable as we could given we had spent the last twelve hours in the bush.
The other part of the protocol we had to observe was that we would be allowed in the throne room (basically not much more than a sitting room but with a large chair at one end) before the Chief graced us with his presence, and when he entered our party had to stand and give him a round of applause.
The chief was slightly dismissive about the clapping but accepted it both for purposes of etiquette and probably because he still got a buzz out of being so treated after so many years. When we stopped and the mealy meal handed over and hurriedly taken out to the kitchen by one of his assistants, he sat next to us on the couches and it was now just a normal meeting, indeed more a social chit chat.