Crazy Town, Crazy Island – At the mission

Our American host quietly and humbly explained the system to us, and how he had both devised and implemented this incredible and workable system based on reading all the scientific journals and books on how to fish farm.  His education was totally unrelated; he had majored in divinity.  It seemed totally juxtaposed that a man with a background in belief and thought and theoretical argument had managed to apply science in such a practical way.  But he seemed to see it as a holistic truth; God had given him the skills to look for the right learning and build the fish farm.  This place was the modern equivalent of the monastery; within the strict structures and institutionalised rituals of a religious existence, there was a symbiotic relationship with experimentation and practical application.  There was no dichotomy here; it all came together in one place.  I’m not a religious person but apart from some of the language this guy used that rang wrong in my head, it seemed he had developed a very humanistic, balanced and working livelihood.  I’d see it as the appliance of good science; he saw it as a gift from an unworldly being.  Whatever it was, it was operating well.

After an hour of being out in the full sun we were flagging, and our host invited us back to the main house for drinks.   It was a standard Caribbean villa, simple architecture with balustrades and open terraces, although on the lower floor the terrace was heavily barred.  But on the outside someone had painted “The West Virginia Hotel” and we noticed that a nearby outhouse was the “Sheriff’s Office and Jail House”.  It was a sort of joke, although it looked incongruous in its surroundings.  We were led through to a cool open kitchen and our host and his assistant quietly searched for some glasses and water.

Looking around the room, I felt like I was in a youth hostel.  The decor was very hostel like with beige painted walls, the odd religious poster around the room, the usual characteristics  of a shared space including ketchup bottles, baskets for cutlery, plastic cloths.  And around the wall flip chart paper containing the cooking, cleaning and activity rotas for all the volunteers.  Everything has its place both in time and space; people fit in to the order ,and maybe the Order.  And the tranquillity and order of this mission washed over me.


A tale of two swamps -simple poached fish

We returned to our own hotel for one last night.  I was due in Mansa this weekend for more meetings and to start making my map, before I would head back alone on the Proflight (literally the only passenger on the Mansa-Ndola leg this time) and to spend most of the next week locked away in my motel room next to a large new Chinese shopping mall in central Lusaka.

All very different and modern compared to the quiet simplicity of this lakeside hotel.  I soaked up the last sunset, the light reflecting purple of the lake, almost placid again after the winds of the rest of the trip.  Out in the lake a few dugout canoes contained fishermen setting the night’s nets.  My name was called from along the way and I ambled over to find Ian and Mainza tucking in to the tilapia that had been bought near the Luapula Bridge.  Here was the resource that we were studying, making regulations about, mapping the area where it would be protected and managed for everyone.  It was just a fish, simply grilled and presented, but it was a symbol of the Bangweulu Swamp

We shared the one plate, picking the meat from the bone with our fingers; separating out the spiny exteriors and leaving behind a classic cartoonish skeleton of the fish.  It was the best meal I had in Zambia that trip.

A Tale of Two Swamps – Tilapia

The Nile tilapia were another concern to some people; mainly outside conservationists.  Tilapia, or the Nile perch has become one of the most prodigiously fish farmed species in the world – as I was to find out in Haiti a month or two later.  Again the species had got into local waterways and was supremely adaptable.  It was swamping the Kafue swamp.  The conservationists felt they threatened the local ecosystem, forcing out other native species.  Ian again was more pragmatic – keep harvesting them and eat them.  Given their spread along the Kafue there was no point in arguing for strict control, and they produced a very valuable source of animal protein. This was a place where it was often difficult to rear enough livestock each year, and tilapia never needed fodder.

I must admit Nile tilapia is not my favourite fish.  Served up as Bream at restaurants; its ugly face is enough to put you off, but the main problem is the deboning.  I’m not the world’s best expert at getting the flesh of a fish’s bone, but tilapia are made worse by the fact it appears to have two layers of bones, the main spine and then a row of hard cartilage out of which come the fins.  The jaw bones complexity also makes me not go hunting for meat round there.  The consequence is that my plate looks like a disaster zone and lots of flaky bits of fishmeat are mashed up with a hundred tiny translucent bones.  Despite these difficulties, it is a staple in the flats and is highly marketable around Southern Africa as bream.

We took a look at various sizes of catch; Ian was impressed that some fish catches were sizeable.  The local fisheries officers were collating the amounts of fish and market prices sampling for their records and they showed us the data sheets; but again the data were not being collated anywhere and never analysed .

We dug deeper into the crowd to see if there was anything else of interest, and I spotted a large pile of catfish on the grass.  These fish – like long thick bodied eels with evil looking whiskers that give the animal its name – weighed several  kilos each.