Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Slideshow of the Safari

This is long, 111 pictures, but hey, we got that down from 1400.  We have more if anyone wants to see them.  The slideshow takes 13 minutes.  It gives you a good idea of our experience there though.  

Monday, August 3, 2009

Slideshow of the Safari

This slide show has music but you may have to click on the speaker to get it to come on.  Also, it's much more enjoyable if you go to full screen.  This was just an experiment.  I will be making more complete slideshows soon!  

Sunday, August 2, 2009


The elephant carcass is behind the cub.

If she looks scary here, try being 15 feet away.  That's the elephant's hind leg.



Wild dog pack



The drive to Lilongwe felt pretty quick.  We left at 6:30 and the roads were pretty empty.  Danny drove us again (the same guy that brought us in on that terrifying ride) but there weren’t many people around so it wasn’t nearly as frightening that he was going to run over someone.  The car did overheat once but we just pulled over for a while and then everything seemed to be fine.  He dropped us at the Kiboko hotel which is very nice indeed.  They have a beautiful indoor/outdoor restaurant where the food is very good and reasonable by azungu standards and a lovely second floor lounge with lots of cushioned seats, pillows, and cool breezes blowing through.  They even have internet (not free) though I didn’t have anything  ready to post.  The kids were most excited about having a TV in the room.  There was only 5 channels, but one of them was Discovery which kept them glued to the screen.  This will be our launching point for a safari into the South Luongwa National Forest in Zambia which leaves first thing tomorrow morning. 




The safari was definitely a highlight of our experience here.  I never dreamed that it would be as wonderful as it was.  Our safari was very reasonably priced and was far from luxurious and so it attracted a certain clientele with whom we made quick connections.  We were the only Americans.  There were also Dutch, British, French, Irish, Scottish, Bulgarian and Italian among 20 people.  We spent around 6 ½ hours in a landrover type vehicle to get to the camp.  We had to stop at the border to check out of Malawi (paperwork and lines) and check in to Zambia (paperwork, lines and $50 each cash).  We also had to stop in a little town and switch over a bunch of bags and people between buses and landrovers.  There was a two hour drive on an unpaved very, very dusty red road, much of it was washboard. 


We were very relieved to arrive at the camp.  It consisted of 10 tent cabins all in two rows perpendicular to the river that acts as the border to the park.  In and across the river we could see hippo and crocodiles.  There was an “ablutions” building with flush toilet and delightfully hot showers.  We ate under a canopy along the river.  There was also a bar 100 yards from the camp and a swimming pool.  All in all, it was really nice. 


The safari starts when they wake all of us up at 5:00 AM and we have a light (very light) breakfast at 5:30.  We then load up into typical open landrover safari vehicles for a four hour drive. (There was a tea break about half way through.)  We are back at the camp at 10:00 AM.  Lunch at 11:30 and then we are free until 3:30 when we have tea and a snack before loading up again for another 4 hour drive.  It gets dark at 6:00 so the last two hours are in the dark with one of the guides scouring the bush with a spotlight. 


We saw it all!  I am really, really quite amazed.  And the guides would drive right up to the wildlife. (No one would allow this sort of thing in National Parks in the US and I felt some judgments about whether it was good for the animals, but it was very exciting.)  One of the things that we saw only 45 minutes or so into the first day was a dead elephant (dead for 2 days or so) being fed upon by a group of female lions and cubs.  The trucks pulled nearly as close as they could get (the elephant smelled quite bad) and the lions paid us almost no attention at all.  We have lots of good (and somewhat gruesome) pictures.  The guide’s best guess about the elephant’s fate it that it had crossed the river and had gone into the village looking for food and was destroying things so the villagers shot it.  It still had its tusks so it didn’t appear to be poached and the guide could see a bullet would with an entrance and exit site.  He figured that the elephant had been shot but hadn’t died until it got back to the park.  It was very, very sad.  The elephants were definitely among my favorite animals in the park.  We had many experiences with them including being charged by a male (the guide says that it was just a mock charge) and a whole herd of them (8-9) quietly walking through the whole camp one afternoon.  They stopped at the entrance to the tents, looked around a little and then went a different way.  Annie had gone to the bathroom (maybe 50 yards from the tents) and when she came out they were between her and the tents so she just had to wait it out over there.  Luckily, there was someone from the campsite beside us who could stay with her. 


Rather than talking too much about the safari I will just post a bunch of pictures.  I do want to say a word about the people who were on the safari with us.  About 80% of us were in Malawi as volunteers or doing projects.  It was so wonderful to talk to everyone about the work that they had been doing, their awarenesses and understandings about Africa and African culture, and our mutual delight in interacting with the people of Africa. 


The only downside of the safari was that it was exhausting!  8 hours bouncing around in a Land Rover and then not being very physically active in between times because there really wasn’t much to do.  By the time we got back to the hotel afterward we were really glad to be out of the car. 


But, alas!  We were doomed to get back in the car the next day for a trip to the Mulanje area, around full day in the car.  : (



Michael Patrick's son, Gift

Michael Patrick and his family


Our goodbyes have been said, things that we don’t need to take with us have been given away and delivered, we have had our last meal cooked by Michael Patrick (beans and rice which will definitely be remembered as my favorite Malawian dish, Mark would say goat curry), our tab has been paid at the resort and transportation into Lilongwe arranged. 


We have also had some hellos today.  Mary and Kyle just arrived from Anchorage today and it was great to get to know them a little before we had to go.  Also, we took Michael Patrick home so that we could meet his family.  He was very proud of his family and his home.  There are 3 or 4 houses on his property where he and his in-laws live.  Patrick has a nice brick house with a tin roof.  It looked like 4 small rooms.  He has a wife and four kids from 14 to 7 months.  (The last is a boy and is named Gift, not an uncommon name here.)  Houses here are very dark.  There is just a window or two and even by 5:00 it is getting dusky enough outside that we couldn’t see a thing inside.  I shot some photos but I was just shooting into the dark.  It’s amazing how well they turn out.  But they are able to see just fine.  We have lost the ability of night vision, I think.  The comparison between the house that Patrick works in every day and his own home is, of course, shocking.  

The Nighswander's home

But, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of comparison or being apologetic for his circumstances, he was genuinely proud of what he has and of us being visitors there.  All of the in-laws squeezed into the little space to look at us.  Patrick could not stop smiling.  Then we took pictures of everyone which excited them. Patrick’s children are all well (Gift is a seriously chubby boy) and are in school.  Patrick is always extremely clean and neat when he comes to work and we wonder how people stay so clean when they live surrounded by dust, dust, dust.  They are doing quite well by Malawi standards. 


Winding down in the Mangochi district

Such beauty.....
Babies everywhere!  This poor puppy is tied up outside all the time.  I'm not sure what the purpose of dogs are in Africa.  It's certainly not companionship.  
What you see in this picture is everything that this family has.  They are one of the poorest families in a very poor area. 
African ingenuity

 Because of various scheduling issues, our time of serving in the Mangochi district is drawing to a close sooner than we had thought.  One thing that we had planned to do is a safari in Zambia which is a four day proposition and leaves out of Lilongwe the capital city.  Our original plan was to go on safari and then return to Palm Beach/MCV to finish up our service.  Reliable transportation has been an ongoing problem for us here.  The car that we are renting from Tom and Ruth has had lots of problems and it is not reliable to take on long trips, for example, into Lilongwe.  Mark did drive it that far to pick up Bob and Sandra but he took the local mechanic along.  It overheated on the way there and then ran badly all of the way home.  It became obvious that it didn’t make any sense for us to try to find a way into Lilongwe then try to find a way back and then repeat the whole thing a day or two later.  So, after the safari we will just take a bus over to Blantyre where we will have two days that we will spend in the surrounding countryside and then fly out of the airport there.  So we are needing to pack up and say our goodbyes a few days earlier than we had expected and then to switch gears from being volunteers to being tourists. 


We are trying very hard not to be “finished” with our mission and work before it was actually over, but we are also having to wind things up.  It has become harder.  One reason is that some of the choices that we have made in interacting with people here are not sustainable.  This particularly applies to the local village kids.  Any one who has been here will tell you that if you start something, no matter how small and well intentioned, it will set off a snowball of expectations from people and especially the children and then you cannot explain to them that you have no more or no more time or just don’t want to do it right now.  We have created a situation in which we can’t even sit on our front porch in the evening and watch the sunset or read a book. 

 That's our porch.....

One of the ways that we thought it would be fun for Annie to be able to interact with the local kids is by painting fingernails as she loves to do.  She is constantly  begging to do my nails and I hate to have my nails painted.  This didn’t work out all that well because she really couldn’t interact with kids much because the kids her age do not speak English well (they are not being taught it in school yet) and it seems that most of the kids in our village do not go on to secondary school.  We haven’t found any kids that could really speak English well.  So, I have been the one to do the fingernails.  And, believe me, there are a lot of fingernails that want to get painted.  In a place where you have no form of adornment in terms of jewelry, hair accessories, etc. a little bit of nail polish can make you feel very pretty.  So, I patiently painted the nails on every hand that was extended to me there in the yard, and sometimes there were 15 or 20 girls.  I was glad that I could make them just a little bit happy.  But there would be a line of girls over the fence every day calling “Polish! Polish!”


It also applies to money and giving money.  Ruth and Tom told us before we came here people would ask us for money.  I thought that this would mean that people would ask for things on the streets or that strangers would come to our door because they had heard that rich white people were there and ask for something.  I didn’t understand that it would be people who we had come to think of as our friends who would be doing the asking.  It is much harder to say “no” when you know the people, their circumstances and their needs and then you compare those to your own.  We have since learned (and those of you who have traveled in Africa can give feed back on this if you would like) that in this culture asking for things from others is completely acceptable.  It doesn’t carry the same negative connotations as it does here, people don’t feel humiliated as we would, and they are very accepting of an answer of “no”.  They won’t hold it against you.  Suffice it to say that we have all had a very hard time saying no and it creates a lot of tension in us about who is going to ask us for something next and what we should say.


We have also had a hard time with wondering if people are ripping us off.  Mark has had several occasions to take tires to get them repaired.  They have gone flat three times.  The last time it happened was just a day or two before we were leaving and so we had errands to do up and down the road in order to wrap things up.  We were also driving people around, dropping them off at MCV, etc.  So we drove on past MCV to Madego.  Mark knew that there were multiple tire places along that stretch of road.  We got the tire out to be fixed and the guys there said that they didn’t speak any English at all.  That was probably a good sign to try some where else.  We tried to explain to them that we were dropping the tire off and would be back later.  Then, when we got back in the car it wouldn’t start.  It just click click clicked.  So then we tried to push start it (I was in the driver’s seat and didn’t realize that the ignition wasn’t switched on) so that didn’t work.  Mark got out and the kids and I started to push.  At that point, a bunch of men began pushing and it got started right away.  A few of them started demanding money of me.  I didn’t have any at all.  By then, we just wanted to get the heck out of there.  When we came back to get the tire the guy said that we owed him 2000 kwacha!  I know that it doesn’t mean anything to you, but as I said, we had had tires fixed before and knew what it was supposed to cost.  This would be the same as taking a tire to Johnson Tire Company expecting to pay 30 dollars to get it fixed and instead being charged $180.  It was really an outrageous sum and the guy knew it.  I was in the car when all of this was going on and I hear Mark arguing with the guy (who doesn’t speak English).  He didn’t know what to do, he had already fixed the tire and you know how it is in the states.  You have to pay what you’re being charged, but you have recourse.  Here, we feel that there is no recourse.  Anyway, Mark had already given him 1200K which is still crazy and he was demanding the rest.  I got out of the car, slammed the door, marched over and started asking what was going on.  I started telling him (loudly) that he knew 2000 was a ridiculous price and that he was treating us dishonestly.  There was some hand waving and gesticulating going on as well.  He immediately started saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK” and wanting us then to go away.  I told Mark that I am happy to pay bad cop for the rest of the trip.  I’m not big on being rude, but we are finding that sometimes here you have to be. 


Just after this we had to stop at the little grocery store to buy bread for breakfast and we were mobbed by 6 or 7 kids shouting and begging for money.  We were longing to be back home about this time. 


Once again, we have to constantly keep our focus.  We have to be understanding and compassionate toward people who are very needy and we are OK with being charged a little effort in the market (as we know that we are) because it is still very inexpensive for us.  But we also can’t let ourselves be taken advantage of.  Well, we could.  We could just throw money at the situation and withdraw ourselves from it, but I don’t think that it’s the right solution for anyone.  I think that we need to keep talking, communicating in whatever ways that we can, until we can work things out.  It is NOT easy here.  Most things that are a part of our daily lives at home are much more difficult here, but the difficulties are definitely part of the experience, part of how we will be effected by this culture.  

More thoughts on Malawi needs…..

A boy playing soccer in our yard.

Fishermen on the lake
Children following us down the road
One of the village kids

Before we left on this trip Mark had obtained a copy of the book Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux.  Paul had worked in Malawi through the Peace Corp as a teacher in the early 60’s.  This book was his account of an overland trip that he was taking from Cairo to Capetown to celebrate his 60th birthday.  He has written a lot about Africa, but it seems that he hadn’t been back to Malawi in a long time, maybe 30 years or more.  He paints a very disparaging picture of Malawi in the 21st century compared to when he was here in the 60’s and I am very, very glad that I had not read it before we came here.  I definitely would have had some preconceived notions and the experiences and observations that he recounts in his book are not what we have seen.  He feels the people have  become rude, lazy, and smelly.  There is no respect from the younger generations (don’t we all complain about that) and the violence, corruption and theft has skyrocketed.  Some of these things we don’t experience here partly because we are isolated from it because of who we are and are only here for a limited period of time and partly because we haven’t spent any time in the cities where some of this is worse.  But, we have found the people to be very polite for the most part.  Most people we meet along the road smile and wave and return our greetings.  They do not seem resentful of us.  Only the very small children beg and that almost seems like play to them.  Sort of like, “Let’s try.  Who knows, they might give us something.”  As I have said before (I think) we don’t give them anything at all because if you do you will be absolutely mobbed and there will never be enough for everyone and then they (the kids) will fight over it.  And I mean hitting and punching.  And of course, we don’t blame anyone for asking us for something.  We carry more in our suitcases than the vast majority of people here own. 


But anyway, about the book.  Part of the change in Malawi has to do with the changes that came about under Banta, the president turned dictator of Malawi, who was in control for over 30 years and then the first elected president who was in office for 10 years.   When Theroux was here, Malawi had just gained its independence.  It was a very poor country and had plenty of issues, but it also had the British system undergirding a lot of the infrastructure and systems.  Banta ruled for a very long time and there are many things that got worse and worse in Malawi.  A lot of things just fell apart, literally.  Buildings, roads, public works, sidewalks, utilities like electricity, not to mention the issues of  poverty, health care and education.  No one bothered to replace them or repair them.   There have been aid organizations, NGO’s and charities who have stepped in to try to fix what the government lets fall through the cracks.  Theroux believes that the NGO’s are part of the problem, that the vast majority of them are not empowering Malawi and that as long as they stay here things will never get better.  These are all of the things that we discuss around the dinner table every night here.  What’s wrong and can it be fixed?  We discussed that it’s similar to the welfare reform program that came about during the Clinton years.  It turned out that we could stop just giving a hand out and with the right support people would begin helping themselves.  This is certainly what many people are advocating for Africa as a whole.  I heard our own president speaking about it from here in Africa the other day. 


Just now, with the current president, who is only the second ever elected, I think that Malawians believe that things are getting better in their country.  They seem very hopeful that this president will improve education and healthcare.  They point to this wonderfully smooth road that runs from Blantyre and Lilongwe as examples of good things that the government is doing.  It’s interesting that Theroux points to Zimbabwe as an example of a country that it was doing it well and making it on its own, but all you have to do is check on Wikipedia to see how that has all turned out. 


My own experience of Malawi is that it is a beautiful place (even in the brownish tones of the dry season) with very beautiful people.  It is also a place of great, great need.  Will I be able to help?