Mfuwe is a straggling town, a series of villages really, strung out along the road between South Luangwa National Park and the International Airport. The commercial centre is called Cropping. It takes its name from the elephant culling activities which went on there over 50 years ago. It has the only filling station in the area. The South Luangwa Conservation Society is based there.
There are a wide variety of shops selling everything tinned food, simple medicines, clothes, beverages, hardware, ironmongery and the paraphernalia of mobile phone accessories. Scattered among the shops are bars and restaurants. I have counted five barber shops. There are roadside stalls selling second hand clothes and shoes, fruit and vegetables. There are several “off licence” stalls offering booze and fags. There is also an open air bicycle repair shop with an attached car wash (bucket and sponge job).
Uncle Petty’s shop used to have a cat sleeping on the counter, but now it has all mod cons. You can pay your electricity meter bill here over the internet.
To the east of Cropping and across the bridge over the Matizye River is SLAMU, South Luangwa Area Management Unit. This is the administration centre, with the police post, most of the churches and Kakumbi rural health centre.
The shortcut from the tarmac to the health centre is a bit of a rat-run. Literally. The track is deeply grooved with tyre tracks made in the mud during the rainy season. The women sweep rubbish, fallen leaves and litter into the crevasses and occasionally set them on fire. This makes for an interesting journey to work. All the kids in compounds either side of the track shout out, “Dak-Ta” when I drive slowly past.
At the turn off to the health centre, there is a food stall, selling “fahreetas” (= fritters) from a plastic bin, with fruit and vegetables on a stall. Usually the shopkeeper sits back in the shade in a locally-made chair, with the seat and back made from strands of rope. Yesterday, the chair must have been in for repair at the local Wesley Barrell upholstery store, because she was sitting in a wheelbarrow instead. Needs must, I suppose. This morning her hair was being styled using a preparation called “Superblack”. I asked for any remnants so I could reverse my grey hair.
Around the back of the Las Vegas Bar, not more than a hundred metres from the health centre, a famous witchdoctor used to do a roaring trade in potions. His speciality was sex therapy, especially fertility. One childless couple went to see him several times without a successful outcome. One day, he arrived at their house when the husband was at work. He told the wife that the husband had asked him to do some special treatment. The guide who told me this story quaintly said, “After he had done A, B, C, D, the wife became suspicious and phoned her husband.” (Don’t you love that expression: “ABCD”?) The witchdoctor was arrested (not sure of the charge) and sentenced to five years imprisonment. The wife did not get pregnant as a result of the “therapy”, but the guide said the witchdoctor might have received a more lenient punishment if his treatment had been successful.