The life in the village – Zambian mud houses with Wi-Fi

Even though I planned to leave Zambia by the end of last week, I could not resist an invitation from a guy who lives in a small mud hut near the border with Malawi. So as is happens, my stay in Zambia has been prolonged by almost another week. The invitation came from nobody else than from a couchsurfer who saw I was passing by and surprisingly was not from a local Zambian but an American Peace Corp volunteer, who lives in the village for nearly two years now.

Sometimes, somewhere the kids actually enjoy doing chores like washing the dishes!

William is working with the local farmers and tries identifying issues and problems in the farming technique that he can help improving. Be it a pig farming, improving food security, planting trees or organic pesticides – anything that farmers want to try or do, and that can also lower their costs of farming or increase their yields and income. He is pretty fluent in the local language Nyanga. Honestly, he is one of the very few Americans I met, who a) spoke another language and b) the language he spoke was far from being any world language. Well, even I had to break some stereotypes I have 😊

Grandpa, ganny and grandchildren 

So on Saturday morning, when I woke up in Chipata town, I had no idea that just few hours late I will be plastering mud houses in a village without electricity grid. The tradition of the fully sustainable and ecologically sourced mud huts is sadly dying out. Although one can build a nice hut using nothing else but free material found around the property, people now build mainly typical brick structures. The mud hut has two main disadvantages: a) after almost every rainy season one needs to re-plaster the walls with some more mud as the rains tends to wash it off and b) termites are very good at slowly eating up your wooden pools so those too needs to be changes.

Humble structure which is used as a kitchen

Every few years also the elephant grass that covers the roof of the huts needs to be changed as it is not waterproof forever. Bricks houses usually don’t have those problems. However, the fact that most of the new houses (and slowly some of the old ones) are being built using bricks and cement shows that people are economically better off, as they prefer to pay for the houses they live in rather than just outsource the material for free from nature.

My mud hut with solar pannels and 4G Wi-Fi connection

Will had set of bricks and mud structures on his garden – a shower, a toilet, his hut, a shed and we were just finishing circular structure that will be used for discussions, clubs and workshops. I came just on time for the plastering part, and so my first day in the village I spend some time plastering the walls and when we finished I took my three tennis balls from my backpack (after painful month of not using them) and taught kids that in the meantime gathered around me how to juggle. Although I don’t think they got the trick, soon I realized that I won’t be putting my juggling balls back in my backpack. All it took was few smiles and I knew that the village will use them way better than me.

Emil Holub in Zambia

Even though it may look like there is nothing to do in such small village with no electricity grid or TV, instead of original day I stayed five days and in the whole time I hardly had any time to open my computer and catch up on some articles and photo editing. Surprisingly, Will has in his small hut 4G Wi-Fi connection and strong enough solar panels to charge your phones, speakers, computers or other things. Yet, there is this vibe when you just want to chill, read a book, observe or just not do anything. From time to time the kids would bring some fruits or vegetable for sale or as a gift, sometimes we got invited for a dinner to one of Will’s friends or we went on to harvest sugar cane which I ended up chewing for the next couple of hours.

Getting my hair done

On the third day we woke up like every other day, but instead of lemon grass – mint fresh tea I decided to go for a coffee. Will is a coffee person and made me a proper strong mug of nice coffee. I, on the other hand, hardly ever drink coffee and I think that was the beginning of my malaria adventure. The day before Will was also mentioning that he has plenty of melarone tablets, which are worth hundreds of dollars and he won’t be able to use them. Melarone is used as a prevention for malaria, however even with them you are not fully protected. Will himself had malaria twice already and as I had it few years ago (after half year of traveling without any preventive drugs whatsoever) I originally did not plan on taking them. I simply thought of it as an useless expanse, given that malaria treatment is free in most countries and basically, if caught early, it is just like a bad flu. However, still being slightly brainwashed by our Western mindset of ‘every-30s-a-person-dies-of-malaria’ and upon the offer of free malarone tablets, I decided to start taking them for the next few weeks. I knew I was heading to Malawi, where malaria is still prevalent and I am going there in the peak of the rainy season. Convinced, I started my day with strong coffee and one melarone.

Being in the mindset of malaria (which I normally never think of when traveling) I immediately thought that I might have it, when I started to feel weak with headache. I spent the day lying in the bed and just resting. Although I had some shivers and generally felt really weak I resisted going to hospital or using one of Will’s self-tests for malaria (widely available all over African countries) and just took it easy. Few hours of rest, and I think the high caffeine with the melarone were mainly out of my body and in the evening I found myself sipping on some of that awesome home-made mead that Will makes in his free time. Well, body needs adjustment to melarone and I think the coffee did not help to it either, many people realize that the anti-malaria drugs are very often much worse in destroying one livers and generally pumping chemicals into our bodies than having malaria. But for me it was just another lesson of how we in Europe are super scared of all the things ‘down-here’ without actually knowing the context of things. I still take melarone, but I think once out of Malawi, I will go back to my ‘come-and-get-me-malaria’ days.

At least I had a good excuse to extend my stay in the village by another two days, because after all, who wouldn’t want to stay in a cosy mud hut with Wi-Fi connection and guava trees all around?