Well, here I am in Zimbabwe. We've had two days in the Gutu region now. Here's how it's gone so far...
The roads were quite nice to start with, but as we got further and further away from the capital, Harare, they got worse and worse, and as we approached the areas where Oxfam actually works, the roads got really bumpy. It's really hot, there's no air conditioning in the car and the windows are only opened now and again.
It's been very windy as well and there's no running water where we're staying - so I shall be using my dry shampoo and my wipes! Then we've got more travel tomorrow - about 75km to where we need to go. I imagine I'll get used to it.
When we finally arrived today, we met all the local chiefs, which was really interesting. The Oxfam staff showed us how to greet people in the traditional way, clapping people's arrival at the meeting place. It's a courtesy, really - making sure everyone knows what we're doing in the area.
I had my first meal here too. I had the chicken and I think I did really well. The others I'm with had the steak and theirs was rather tough!
Today we had an early start. We left at 7am, and spent something like seven hours on the road, travelling 75kms to meet the Magarinya family.
Esther Magarinya is 34 (just four years younger than me) and a new mum to twins Thomas and Kefas. They're just one month old, and so lovely.
In the shade of Esther's home it was still so hot. I don't know how they can all cope in there when they all have to sleep. It's so small with mum and dad and all the children in only one small living space.
There are no luxuries at all here. No sign of any baby kit which you just come to expect at home. There's no cot, no Moses basket, no bottles, no steriliser. Nothing you'd expect to find when there are two new babies in the house.
The babies are already eating a flour-and-water mix and they're only a month old. When I asked Esther, she explained that when she has less food to eat she can't produce enough milk to feed the two of them. So that's why she's having to supplement that with solid food. That's just something you'd never hear of back at home in the UK.
Meeting the Mudzingwa family
It was a day I'll never forget.
We went to meet the Mudzingwa family in a village called Mataruse. Their son Paradzai came to meet us, because the family homestead is not an easy place to find. They live about 3km off-road from the main town, so with Paradzai as our guide we left the dirt track roads and went between trees, over rocks and through streams until we got there.
Paradzai is 21 years old and has just finished doing his A-levels. Right now, his wish is to go to university, but the family simply can't afford it. It costs £600 per term so in total that would be approximately £3,800, not to mention the living expenses, books and materials. School books can be really expensive here. He recently lost one and he couldn't collect his A-level results until he'd replaced it. It cost the family more than £50! I just found this outrageous. His family had to sell ten buckets of maize to pay for it. It's really frustrating for Paradzai, he just wants to better himself but he's stuck.
While I was there I did some cooking and helped Lois, the mum of the family, to make 'sadza'. It's the staple food here, made from maize-flour and water, and looks like a sort of thick, starchy couscous. Whilst we were cooking, Lois commented on my hands. She was touching and feeling them and said: 'They are so soft!' She asked me if I worked and asked me to feel her hands too. They weren't rough like my Dad's hands (he's a builder) but they were hard - because she's an amazing, hard-working woman.
Before we could start the cooking, we had to go to collect some water. Now earlier on, I'd asked why they chose to live here so far away from anything, and Lois told me it was because there's a stream nearby so when we went to get the water I naively expected to see some running water. But no, it's a dried-up river bed, where they have to dig a hole to let the water seep up through the sand. I found this really hard - I mean this family is already coping with a serious shortage of food and this is their only source of water to drink, clean, cook and try and keep their crops alive.
We said our goodbyes and left to see what's being done to help change this situation - the massive Ruti dam project that's helping families grow more food. Oxfam has agreed with the government to give families plots of land to grow their crops on, and families are channelling water from the dam to feed these crops. It was stunning really. Until I'd seen these fields, I thought the maize I've been seeing in the fields along the roads in Zimbabwe was normal, but it's not, it's dying. The maize on Oxfam plots is HUGE in comparison. Literally double the size!
In these lush, green fields I met Ipaishe. She's been farming the land here for three harvests and her crops are so successful that she's been able to feed her mum and sisters, sell enough to build a granary and also give away some to her neighbours.
I can't tell you how amazing this was to hear and see for myself. This work really is changing people's lives here.
An incredible journey and the long road home
Today was a day of extremes. It began with a fantastic morning back at the Ruti dam project I mentioned earlier in the week. But this time, I saw a different side of Oxfam's work.
The water that's used to feed the crops at Ruti - great as it is - isn't drinkable. So Oxfam have also put in boreholes to give the farmers and their families fresh, clean drinking water.
I saw the impact of this for myself when some children from the local primary school started to fill up their bottles with dirty water from the dam. Peter, one of the Oxfam team running the project here, soon stepped in.
Over the next few minutes I saw just how amazing local Oxfam staff are. Peter was great with the kids and explained to them that water they can't see through contains germs that can make them sick. One little girl had filled her plastic bottle with the clean, clear water from the borehole, so Peter held it up and showed them all the difference in colour.
Peter then rewarded the little girl with an exercise book and pencil. And then, all the children ran off as fast as they could back to the borehole to fill up their bottles with the good stuff. Brilliant!
This afternoon by comparison was really tough.
I visited a family with a 13-month-old son who is so malnourished he's only the size of an eight-month-old. He can't yet stand on his own. The family used to be able to eat three meals a day but the husband, who's a builder by trade, lost his job back in October.
The mum, who was orphaned when she was 10 years old, has no extended family to support her either. Last year, she was diagnosed as HIV positive. And, with the family's crops all failing due to lack of rainfall, they have nothing at all to fall back on. They're now down to just one simple meal of maize flour mix a day.
This was the saddest thing I've seen on the trip. The family is just about existing and in desperate need of help. It really brought home to me the importance of Oxfam's work to help people grow more food. It's vital.
So, this is it now as I'm starting the long journey home tomorrow. But I'm so glad I made the journey. I'm determined to remember everything I've seen and make changes to my own life when I get back to the UK. I want to teach my kids to be grateful for how much they've got, you know, and not always be hankering after the next big thing.
It's been a fantastic experience; at times really, really, challenging and at others, just amazing. I've met great people and seen the impact of Oxfam's work, and my donations, up close and personal!Suggest a correction