Friday, July 1, 2011

Fast forward a bit... SAFARI!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We left at 8:30 this morning for Mvuu Camp. The drive wasn’t too bad until we turned left on a dirt road. We traveled through the bush for 45 minutes and we went right through villages. Children stormed the bus. They were screaming (I mean loudly) for money (they kept saying only $1), water bottles, etc. It was so disheartening and it went on for almost an hour. Some of the children even started getting very angry when we did not give anything. They even threw sticks at bus! It was almost uncomfortable. I wanted to help these children but this isn’t the way. It just shows how much Malawi is a country of beggars. They want a quick fix but with that, the cycle of poverty just continues. It’s really sad.

We arrived at the parking lot of the National Park and took small boats over to Mvuu camp across the Shire River (Grandpop, if you are reading—I seriously felt like I was in the movie “African Queen”—the boat structure and scenery was identical!). The camp was luxurious, at least for Africa. It is one of Malawi’s few tourist attractions and for good reason. We ate a delicious lunch upon our arrival and after our debriefing from our head tour guide George. We were then given the keys to our Chalets after that. Katlin and I roomed with Kelsey and Katie. The Chalets were really beautiful and quaint. They lined the camp and were waterfront on the Shire River.

3:00 Land Safari. This was awesome. We walked out and I saw an open jeep that seated 10 people. I don’t think a car has ever brought me that much excitement.  It was exactly what I had always imagined an Africa safari jeep to look like. The usual eight of us piled in (Kelsey, Katie, Bebe, Ashley, Alison, Lindsay, Katlin and myself) along with Dr. Kelly and Dr. Sharon (from A&T). Jimmy was our driver and Patrick was his wonderful assistant. Patrick did most of the “looking” on our behalf! They were the most wonderful tour guides. It was obvious they put forth their best effort to find us every animal possible. Their kindness and work ethic resembled the Malawians I thought I would meet more often. These men were genuine and really wanted to do their best for us. They earned what they received and loved doing it. I guess it’s hard to put into words. But these men I could have put in my back pocket and taken them home. They were the soft older men that could be your second dad/third grandpa. Make sense? On our amazing safari we saw warthogs, kubu, sabels, waterbucks, impalas, zebras, and elephants (adult and baby). When we first saw the elephants, I thought I was on a ride in Disney world. They were HUGE and looked mechanical.  I have no other words to describe it. It was an incredible meeting. The pictures we “captured” do not even do these animals justice!! This safari was definitely my favorite thing we’ve done in Africa (besides meet my kids). I am surprised with myself that I wasn’t more nervous. But the experience was breathtaking, liberating and so thrilling!!! I just loved it.

We met the rest of the group in the savannah to watch the sunset. The guides brought wine and we all enjoyed cocktails as the sun went down. How awesome is that? I was almost brought to tears as the sun was setting. The open savannah was melting into the horizon and I was there to witness it? Unreal. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted Dave beside me at this moment (well, all moments but especially this one. I miss you Pooh!) After a nice buzz, we packed back in our perfect safari jeep for our night drive. Jimmy drove again but this time Patrick sat in a seat that was built into the front hood of the car. He had to provide the extra lighting for the drive, plus he was in charge of finding our nocturnal animals! And then, I got to sit shotgun! We saw white tailed mongooses, porcupines, some birds and hippos!! The hippos come out at night for grazing on the ground! To say they were huge is an understatement. Male hippos weigh about 4 tons and females come in at about 3.5 tons, according to Jimmy. There was a sweet male and female hippo grazing along together. Date night! It was really sweet.

After a wonderful day, we retreated to our Chalet (once again, so cool!) It was freezing. We were basically sleeping in a glorified tent. All bundled up, we attempted sleep only to be woken up every few hours to the sounds of elephants, hippos and some even claim lions!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

5:15 wake up call! Ahh!! We started off the day with our morning walking safari with Patrick. We learned a lot about the savannah. We saw some unique trees such as the Baobob tree. They live for thousands of years and they are the only tree that can survive that long in Africa. They are made purely of fiber and are not used for wood or lumber so they serve no purpose to the people. Plus, I don’t think anyone could cut down these trees! They are so huge! Patrick said people used to make loincloths out of the fibers from the tree though. We also saw a Manpoli tree that has butterfly shaped leaves!

Next was the boat safari (after our ridiculously good breakfast consisting of a ham and cheese omelet! First time having meat other than chicken! Yay!).  Jimmy took us our on the same boats we arrived in! It was so like the African Queen. I couldn’t get over it! We saw tons of hippos. Mvuu Camp claims that have about 1350 hippos and about 700 elephants!! We also saw crocodiles, birds and monkeys and elephants on the shore. It was great!!

We left Mvuu Camp around 11:30 and traveled to a local school about a mile out. The school was beautiful. A few years ago, a family from the USA was staying at Mvuu Camp and wanted to see the surrounding area. They were so saddened by the school that was barely getting by. So upon their return to the States, they started the H.E.L.P Malawi Foundation. It stands for Help, Educate, Love and Protect. The foundation supports this school and has helped it to be the most effective school in Malawi. We’ve visited about 6 schools at this point and the difference is incredible. They also sustain themselves with projects like growing vegetables, carpentry, and jewelry making. The children do all the labor and learn how to make a profession out of what they have. All the funds benefit the school further. It was inspirational to see. Out of all the poverty in this country, and I mean extreme poverty, there are little niches of people really working hard to make their lives better.

Our next stop on our journey back to Zomba was Liwonde. This is the center for woodcarvings, jewelry making, paintings, etc—basically where all the souvenirs are made. So we shopped our little hearts out! It felt so good! 

Monday, July 1, 2011

Today was frustrating. My kids are just so ready to be done school. They finished exams this week and now it’s just the last “fluff” week. They are so antsy. And it’s been getting frustrating to teach sometimes because they just want to be done. But overall, they make me smile and laugh everyday. I can’t believe this gets to be my job in the future!!!

After school, Teresa invited us to have lunch at her house. We went over and were greeted by two of her daughters, Bridget and Omega. “You are most welcome”—a common saying by the people here. They served us lunch and I nearly died. It consisted of nsima (cooked corn meal) with cooked spinach and peas. I was thankful that the vegetables were cooked because then I could at least try them but yuck! It was nasty. When we got our plates, Katlin and I grinned and bared it together. I put the littlest bit in my mouth and chugged my water!! HAHA!  I think her daughters could tell I was struggling because they kept giggling. Oops!

After lunch, the girls brought us some “snaps” (pictures). We learned that Teresa has 5 total children and is a widow. Her husband died in 2008 from cancer (but Dr. Kelly thinks it was AIDS). Can you imagine raising 5 children by yourself in AFRICA? Omega is her youngest and she is 8 years old. Her oldest children are in college. What a span! It was a good experience to see her house and how the “middle class” of Malawi lives. Although the food was awful, I’m glad we did it! J

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