Monday, July 23, 2012

Safari! So-Goody!

Yes I decided to not shave for three weeks, it was liberating albeit, itchy!!

Hey #YoungThuds!!

Earlier this month I took a once in a lifetime trip to Zambia in Africa, organized by my very good friends at, Josh Rubin and Evan Orensten. The trip started with deliveries. A Tumi Cool Hunting safari edition travel duffel bag and a pair of boots from The vintage shoe company. Alright! Now that's a great way to get you in the packing mood. 

The fashion designer Geren Ford custom made Safari jackets for all 27 people in the group, each one uniquely designed and tailor fit the person. Mine was described as 'Theatrically rugged'.  A deconstructed jacket with patches of suede and leather. It's really awesome. Geren also made us printed cotton scarfs, that provided much protection from the sun and more importantly for me, the bugs. I consider myself a bit of a dare devil, I've put my hand to skydiving, planking on the edge of the Victoria falls and riding helicopters, if only there was enough time to bungee jump.  But when it comes to bugs. I just completely "bug out". you see, mosquitoes absolutely love me, and will jump at any chance to suck my blood. A recent trip to India had confirmed this. This time I was taking no chances and had purchased $300 worth of repellent, (FYI - nothing works better than deet.) Instectshield clothing and bed netting, then on amazon I came across this really ugly and unflattering bug suit - A must have for all Lady Ga-Ga fans out there and budding beekeepers. I loved it, truth be known.  I wasn't exactly going for the Robert Redford 'Out of Africa' look. Ok, I was, but just not in this mesh. I ended up looking more like Terry Thomas in an old "Carry On" movie ;-) or a new character in a Thomas Harris novel that he hasn't thought of yet, "He puts the repellent in the mesh, he put's the repellant on the skin" However my bug suit did prove very trying when it came to drinking my afternoon G&T's. Imagine sipping through a pair of old granny tights. (another bug repellent, I'm told.) Unlucky for me, we had the Tsetse flies biting at you during the day and the Mosies at night.  So to say I came away with only three bites I count myself very blessed.

"Bugsuit" covered by Geren Ford Custom-made Safari Jacket
When we landed at Mfuwe airport the first thing to hit me was the smell. Gasoline and burning fields. The smoke rising into the deep full African sun is a beautiful sight, but. my stinging eyes wondered what on earth we had just entered. Some war torn city perhaps. 'Apocolypse, Now' sprang to mind. 'Hotel Rwanda', maybe? 

As we pass the locals I wonder what must they think of us, three trucks load of rich (?) folk from the States with matching boots and luggage. Are we the circus? I mused. What do they think of us? Who are these middle class wankers coming into our village, snapping pictures and drinking champagne? I actually felt a little sick at myself.watching the locals walking and cycling everywhere carrying canisters of water on their heads, three to a bike. Children chasing after us with their hands stretched out shouting "Sweeties, sweeties." I thought this is crazy.

 But, I was told later that the village appreciates us as guests as we are actually helping their economic growth and help pay towards the schools in the village. The lodge and it's guests have been long time supporters of the schooling system here. And education is the number one priority of all the young I spoke to. More on that later.

The Lodge was really beautiful, not what I had imagined. It over looks the plains with Giraffe, Impala, Zebra and Baboons jumping all over the place, like the opening of some classic Disney movie. Did somebody cue them? I thought. The owner Andy and all the staff at The Bushcamp Company were tremendous, from the excellent friendly service to the knowledge of all of our guides, a special mention goes out to Ozzy our bartender, who made sure that our glasses runneth over, with Veuve of course. 

Once settled there were even more surprises, We were given Pentax binoculars to use during our stay and Pentax were also kind enough to give us cameras to keep and lenses to play with. And it helped that we had Kerrick James a world reknown photographer on hand to give us lessons and some pointers. My favorite was the Pentax K-30 with the interchangeable lenses. The 300 fixed lens was great for capturing animals in the distance and the 18-135mm lens was perfect for the variety I sometimes needed especially when we got extremely close to them, and most of the time we were. 

Dora the Explorer eat your heart out
The trip itself was very well scheduled, with activities every day, from drives through the national park, dinners in the middle of a lake, a sunset cocktail party sponsored by Veuve Clicqout, walking safaris and of course meeting and hanging with new friends. As a rather big group it was hard to spend quality time with everyone, but Evan and Josh mixed things up a bit by splitting us up into smaller groups of six or eight to spend time in the actual bushcamps. with. Two nights in two different camps. I stayed at Zungulila and Kapamba. Zungulila was right out of some Ralph Lauren shoot, or a Vanity Fair spread. take your pick. Vintage luggage cases stacked up against the walls, a dazzle of Zebra skins spread neatly under crocodile skinned coffee tables, a parade of elephants crossed the lake in front of us. while a lioness and her five cubs stare down a lonely Impala (Antelope)... lunch? 

When we moved to the next camp Kapamba, the elephants were even closer, try right outside the room, with no real doors, the spiderweb gates promise to keep the bigger animals at bay, but throughout the night thoughts of snakes, honey-badgers and hyenas slipping through the gaping holes kept me sleeping with one eye open. This camp is not for the faint at heart. but enough alcohol and Ambien (sleeping aid)  will see you through till morning. Did I mention every morning your wake up call was at 545am - But it's well worth it as all the best animals come out at sunrise. Cue Elton's 'Circle of Life'

Evan and Josh, still taking care of us, provided us with Moleskine sketchbook and pencils. I discovered I am no Picasso, but still had fun listing all the animals and footprints and trees we saw each day. Out of the big five I got to see three. The Elephant, the Giraffe and the Hippo. In fact the Hippo slept right outside our room. Grunting the night away. Rhinos are rarely seen in Zambia and everyone but me laid eyes on a leopard. (I'll get you one day!) 

Now all this sounds rather luxurious right? And it was, it's what we in the UK like to call...'Glamping' (Glamorous camping) but there was another reason we were there. And that was to learn about the culture and see the state of the schools in Mfuwe. I was told that most of the kids (up to 50%) in the town are orphaned losing their parents to HIV/AIDS, or Malaria or even attacks by animals. (yes you heard that right) So, the schools are overrun and are in desperate need of more classrooms and supplies. 

On our first visit to Mfuwe Day Secondary School, we toured the grounds. The first thing I noticed was that the school has no running water. Pupils pump from the wells all day long, taking it in shifts. Their bathrooms are cesspits in the ground which is a breeding ground for disease and bacteria. The dormitories are overcrowded with worn down mattresses and clothes hanging from the ceiling, on some occasions it's four kids to one bed. Heartbreaking indeed. 

As we approach the new buildings (paid through donations and sponsorships) there's a glimmer of hope, as we see builders hard at work, making a new classroom, alongside an almost complete dormitory. If you feel you may want to contribute in someway please visit their website - even a few dollars will make a big difference. They even need trees to provide shade, desks and backpacks are in big demand too. A lot of these kids have to travel on foot or bicycle up to 15km to get to school. Imagine carrying your books in the heat.
  We were greeted by the headmistress and the staff of the school, who led us to an open area, where the school choir entertained us, They were an amazing talented bunch with such great voices and personalities to match. After the choir came the drama class, who performed a musical number that was so raunchy it makes 'Magic Mike' look like 'High School Musical' But according to our hosts, this sort of tribal mating ritual style of dancing is very common. Personally I liked it, but noticed a few shocked faces within the group. 

After the performances some of the pupils were chosen to meet and greet us and share their stories. These kids were so well mannered and so excited, they all loved having there pictures taken and seeing the results. The ones I spoke with have high ambitions of reputable careers, such as judges, policemen, lawyers, and ministers. one boy Dixon, told me about his dream of becoming an actor, but didn't see how that was ever going to be possible and that a career as a doctor might be more realistic. All the kids wanted to get my email address, and physical address, almost desperate for a slice of Americana. They are familiar with such shows like 'American Idol' and 'So You Think You Can Dance.' I wondered if the latter had inspired their gyrating 'getdown' moves earlier.

A few days later a few of us returned to the school, to somehow give something back to them as a thank you for the welcome they had given us. A couple taught photography, another taught project management, (turning your dreams into reality) and little old me taught the drama class.

 Grizzly Adams teaches a class.
I've coached a few fellow actors for auditions in the past, but have never taught a class before so was quite nervous. I'd spent a few days thinking about what to actually teach these guys, as self expression they already had in abundance. that was clear, so I decided that I wanted them to experience something rather than just some sort of lecture, I also didn't want to tie them down to a script. Using the skill-set I had learnt at The Groundlings, I decided upon a curriculum of fun games, improv and character work. -Which they all seemed to love.

The Drama Class of 'Mfuwe Day'
Our windows were packed of kids peering through trying to catch a glimpse of these kids parading around the room as elephants, shivering from frostbite, or being very very tired. The biggest kick seemed to be when I had them all play zombies. -This is just a great exercise to get them started, to relax and enjoy themselves. I led them through some exercise that got them to really use their imagination, and of course it crossed my mind that when I was demonstrating some 'space work' of a doctors office and using space work implements, that they probably didn't have the same sort of environments as us.  However, I loved watching them as each one got up and recreated their own worlds, their own habitats, using the power of suggestion and mime. I ended my session with a fun game that I used to play as a kid called 'Wink Murder'. A cunning game where all participants close their eyes and one is tapped on the shoulder, whomever is tapped is now the murderer and must kill everyone with a wink of an eye. If the killer winks at you, it is your job to die of the most horrible death you can imagine. Everyone laughed so hard watching their class mates ham it up as each one dropped to the floor. I was the last one standing when Leo winked at me,  I'd had some previous practice of dying (on-screen), most recently on the cross over episode of Hawaii 5.0 and NCIS:LA That was a pretty unspectacular two shots to the chest it was all over kind of death. My character Alfred Hoffman in Fringe had died a fantastical death of choking on his own DNA toxic gas. Strangled in my underwear by a raving psycho bitch in the horror movie  'Slaughter' was a good one, oh and on the TV show 'The District', dying of an overdose of PCP, death cout 4. But, none, I tell you, even came close to the blood curdling sounds that came out of my over the top, highly dramatic, tony winning ,death scene I gave these kids. The best round of applause I've ever gotten and one that will always mean the most to me.

I love the joy in this kids face when he sings.

And as for Dixon, I'd like to believe that he does have a fighting chance of one day making it as an actor, I told him to always keep the dream alive even if it's in your sleep... because strange things happen when you dream and sometimes they come true. Not that I'm comparing myself, but growing up on a council estate in the UK, I never knew how I was ever going get to Hollywood and become an actor, but if I dreamed hard enough, it might just happen.

I hope to get back to the school in a few years to see how it has progressed - and now I dream that it will have running water by then.

-- I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Much love



  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds like these children will always be in your heart. Well done, you!

  2. How lovely! What a remarkable and wonderful story - I'm sure they are anxiously awaiting your return:)) miss you and hope to see you on the 15th!!! Xoxo Sheila

  3. This is a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it. You must be a writer as well as an actor , and obviously a compassionate and passionate human being....simply wonderful. Jo