Adventures on The Book Bus

After my trip to Victoria Falls and an awesome first day, the rest of my first week on The Book Bus just got better and better . Each day we go to a different school and the timetable is the same each week ”“ Linda (Monday), Nakatindi (Tuesday), Libala (Wednesday), Dambwa (Thursday) and Cowboy Cliffs (Friday).

Children at Nakatindi School in Livingstone, Zambia

Fun with feathers

For me it was a week of wonderful new experiences. We read lots of different books with the kids and  made exciting crafts to go with them and as the week progressed I could feel my own confidence growing as well as theirs. The children call me Madam (or Helen) but I also discovered the word Mzungu, a word which the children (and the a few adults) call us occasionally. Mzungu (and its variations in other countries) means ”˜person with white skin’. It’s not meant as an offensive term.

The children have AMAZING names. A few that I’ve come across are; Lonely, Obvious, Elvis, Clever, Omen, Favourite, Bright, Happiness, Mate, Marvellous, Memory, Golden, Fortune, but my absolute favourite”¦Trouble!

Children at Dambwa School in Livingstone, Zambia

Struan, Tom (10), Anna (9) and I with some of the Dambwa kids – This picture made The Guardian

On day 2 we were at Nakatindi school and I had a few minutes spare at the end of my lesson. I needed to improvise,  so I decided to sing a song with my group, one of the warm up songs I used to use as a drama student back in the day - ”˜The Banana Song’. Struan brought his group over to join in too.

I asked the children to stand in a circle and raise their arms above their heads. They followed suit with a little bit of trepidation. I began to sing quietly  ”“ ”˜Peel banana, peel, peel banana, peel banana, peel, peel banana,’ lowering my arms to symbolise the peeling of said banana. The children followed, looking at each other giggling quietly, not quite sure what to make of this Scouser in a bright yellow t-shirt pretending to be a banana. Then getting louder – ”˜Shake banana, shake, shake banana,’ the children began to laugh out loud as we shimmied to the beat ”˜shake banana, shake, shake banana.’ By this point we were attracting the attention of the other children who had just finished their lessons.  Then as loud as we could – ”˜Go bananas, go, go bananas,’ as we flailed our arms and legs in every direction ”˜go bananas, go, go bananas!’ The kids clapped and cheered.

Children at Nakatindi School in Livingstone, Zambia

Going bananas at Nakatindi

Now everyone wanted a go, and each day we took it to the schools. From then on in, the children of Livingstone would request The Banana Song whenever we went (and still to this day Book Bus volunteers and children alike still sing this pesky but catchy tune). Sorry Livingstone – that was my fault!

On Wednesday at Libala, I was teaching a group of girls when two little ones came over and sat nearby watching what we were doing. When I asked if they’d like to join us, they were shy and embarrassed.

Children at Libala School in Livingstone, Zambia

Too shy to join in with the big kids

As the lesson went on they crept closer, until eventually they sat down, the books to good to resist.

Children at Libala School in Livingstone, Zambia

Oh go on then

As we were preparing to leave, the children gathered round the entrance to the bus. They erupted into a song and it goes something like this ”˜Salaj tomato, chi tomato, salaj tomato, chi tomato. Jiggy jiggy jeelay, jiggy jeelay, iggy jiggy jeelay, jiggy jeelay.’ Apparently it has something to do with cooking a stew.

Children at Libala School in Livingstone, Zambia

Salaj tomato

The following day at Dambwa, we were taught that this was actually a game. The children stand in a circle and one child starts in the middle and begins the call and begins the clapping – ”˜Salaj tomato’ and then the rest of the children call back ”˜chi tomato’ and it repeats as above ”“ they all keep the beat with a steady clap. Some of the kids are so rhythmic, it’s unreal. Where did they learn to dance like that? Beyonce eat your heart out! Then they all join in with the jiggy jiggy jeelays and the child in the middle goes to one of the children on the outside, stands in front of them, one arm on their head, the other on their hip and then they both wiggle and swap places and the whole thing begins again. Hours of fun! Even more hilarious when us mzungus join in!

Children at Dambwa School in Livingstone, Zambia

Fun with paper, pencils and glitter, as some of the other children look on

This was also the day I managed to aqquire the nickname, Big Mama Glitter. I’m not quite sure how this came about – maybe because I was using glitter, not sure about the other part…. My biggest mistake was telling the other volunteers who found it hilarious. The name stuck and I was Big Mama Glitter from then on.

Children at Dambwa School in Livingstone, Zambia

The boys loved their glittery stars

One of the highlights of that particular day is when Kelly and Marjorie read aloud the book, Charlie Chick, to some of the younger children who hadn’t been in our lessons. The children gazed in wonder at the pop up books. Those who could, read along with them.

Children at Dambwa School in Livingstone, Zambia

Charlie Chick


The kids screamed with delight as the page turned to reveal huge chicken feet popping out of the page.

Children at Dambwa School in Livingstone, Zambia

Imagine seeing a pop up book for the very first time – WOW (I love the face on the big kid in the middle)

I don’t think I stopped smiling in those first few days, working with children who were so keen to learn, and the rest of the week was shaping up to be just good as we were off on a sunset cruise down the Zambezi later in the evening”¦

About Author

I'm a travel blogger and tour operator with a passion for Africa travel. I love the great outdoors, going on epic trips around the world and helping others travel!


  • nicole
    July 19, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    What a beautiful story! and a beautiful experience, too. =)

    • Helen
      July 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks Nicole, it was honestly one of the best weeks of my life as well! 🙂

  • Toni
    July 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    I can literally sense the smiles of the children and yours jumping right out of the webpage 🙂 Such an incredible experience! 

    • Helen
      July 23, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      Toni it was just truly wonderful! Magical moments in life!x


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