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I wish you could have joined us on our visit to Victoria Falls.

When you walk through the tropical forest leading to Victoria Falls, you are absorbed into a world of power, water and energy. It feels like a kind of natural baptism that realigns the perception of one’s place in the universe. This place is literally “awesome”.

Nearby, there is a somewhat demanding hike down to the “Boiling Point”, where the water from the falls is squeezed through a narrow passage and creates a powerful vortex that gives a frisson of fear and admiration, thrilling and annihilating the ego.

Bridget and Janet hiking down

Then you have to return on that same very steep path. If you didn’t sweat or breathe hard coming down, you will going up. For me, it was a test of my determination and physical endurance, but well worth it.

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Before the community farm, before Zambezi Dolls, I began my life as a non profit raising small amounts of money for the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home in Livingstone, Zambia after my first visit there in 1996. In 2005, I began to visit the Home for a few weeks each winter, bringing supplies for art projects for the children served by the home. COVID stopped my visits for three years, but I am finally back again.

The Mama Bakhita children and I have been painting all week. Friday had been set aside for working with clay. Sydney Mwamba, our general manager, who I like to call the hands and feet of the AACDP, brought a huge sack of clay (or mud, as it is called here) from the banks of the local river in his native village, Jack Mwanapapa. Janet and I have kneaded it, added water and worked it over the past few days and today we handed out grapefruit sized balls of the stuff to the six waiting children. I really wondered how they would respond. It took a while to get going. One young man, Steve, started making little logs and lining them up like a road. Gradually the others began their own projects.

Some of the ideas were shared between children. Alec was making small bodies, and Tony followed his lead. And then they separated and went their own ways. I was surprised to see how they began by studying what others were making and then to diverge from each other’s methods. Veronica asked for a stick and I handed her a brush that had a rounded endpoint which she immediately put to use.

The atmosphere on our corner of the terrace was calm and pleasant, with children exhibiting every level of engagement; for some it seemed relaxed and quietly social, and for others it was intensely focused.

Deborah, who has cerebral palsy, worked hard to manipulate the clay in any way possible for her. She pounded, squeezed and flattened. Eventually she began to grasp small pieces and attach them to a larger mass. It became clear to me that once again, art can be a reason to move your limbs in ways that encourage development.

Mildred's creation

Tony's creation

Maybe they felt the connection between the clay from their own soil and themselves. Maybe it was something else, but, whatever it was, we finished feeling happy and productive.

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I’m here at the communal farm in Zambia, my first trip to Africa in three years.

Sydney, the farmers, and my friend & helper Janet

The farmers are the women who are the Zambezi Doll Company. One month ago we decided to put the doll business on hold because we needed to concentrate our energies and resources on the farm. There was some ambivalence on the doll makers’ part about this shift, but now they are excited by the farm’s potential. They have already begun raising goats, and have more ideas - they talk about channeling water to a small natural hollow to raise tilapia and building a chicken run to raise “village chickens”. Some local businesses have already expressed interest and are especially keen because it is a women’s project.

Since my arrival a few days ago, there’s been talk about what to name the farm. For now, we’re calling it Zambezi Farm.

My colleague and manager, Sydney Mwamba, has organized the first stages of infrastructure. A road to the farm was created, two solar powered irrigation systems installed, and a large water tank base, goat shed and storage shed constructed. Ten goats and a commodious farm vehicle have been purchased.

Sydney picks the women up at 5:30 in the cool of the morning just as the sun is rising. The drive out is smooth most of the way. The last mile gets bumpier as the red dirt road winds closer to the farm. Then we pass the first corn field, standing strong with a month’s growth.

It is hard to imagine that just two years ago this was uncultivated bush.

The women work in the fields all day, breaking only for lunch. They are asking when we will build a simple house so they can stay and work for a few days. Their energy and stamina is surprising. I think that they are responding to the peace and beauty of the countryside as well as all the possibilities that are emerging.

I watch from a distance as they wield the heavy hoes, their straight backs bent at 90°, cultivating large areas of corn and peanuts that spread out in an organic sprawl. The plan is to go out again on Monday and they ask if I will come. I tell them that I cannot hoe like them, but I will be happy to come and weed.

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