Malawian Rice Vendor

Saturday, 1 October 2011


We were able to rent a car and make the 4 hour drive East to Swaziland. A beautiful, mountainous country. We ended up finding a great place in the middle of one of their national parks to camp. Set in the lush, verdant, terrain we were able to see many animals from our campsite. We fell asleep peacefully only to wake at around 3am to the sound of booming thunder. We were a little scared as we were totally susceptible to lightening strikes in the grassy field where our tent lay. As the flash and boom became almost instantaneous, we thought we should probably take cover somewhere else. When we opened the tent, we noticed many silhouettes of animals only a few feet away. We were not sure what to do next. We decided that the animals were probably more of a hazard than the odd lightening strike so we stayed put inside our little tent hoping we wouldn't get hit. The storm eventually passed and we were able to sleep. We spent the next couple of days cruising through this small country, the differences between here and South Africa are astounding (more on that later). The rain continued to fall the following day as our tent became basically a big plastic sponge. After a few days in Swaziland, in the pouring rain, we decided to head back to South Africa to see if they would let us back in. We made the hour drive to the border only to find a line longer than the Nile River. We parked the car and waited in the cold weather as the line slowly moved. It took us about 90 minutes to get up to the front where we got our exit stamps then made our way to the South African side only to find that it too had a line a mile long. We finally got to the front and the immigration official barely glanced at our passports and automatically gave us 30 more days. Why the other a_ _hole didn't do this in the first place is still grating at us. We proceeded toward a game park called Pilanesberg. The first couple of hours was a bit surreal as we drove through a heavy shifting fog at times visibility was reduced to almost zero. It made the driving interesting as there were several people on the side of this busy highway walking so they would suddenly appear out of nowhere like ghosts. We had to take a series of back roads as there did not seem to be a direct route to where we were going. The countryside was interesting as we passed several small townships in the middle of nowhere. They were an interesting contrast to some of the HUGE barricaded houses usually located on hillsides. It took us about 6 hours to finally make it up to the game park. Located right next store to the infamous Sun City Resort, It is a great park with lots of animals. Unfortunately after making a nice evening drive through the park we got back to camp only to be inundated with another HUGE thunderstorm. The storm drenched everything. At one point after getting hit with so much rain INSIDE the tent and with the lightning strikes seemingly getting a bit too close we left the soggy tent and got into our little car. We looked at each other and could only laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Trying to sleep in this little car in wet clothes and sleeping bags was next to impossible. We did make it through the night only to wake the next morning to a puddle the size of Lake Eerie. We packed our soggy gear and went for another game drive. The drive turned out to be fabulous! We were able to see lots of animals including three HUGE rhinos strolling around. We were able to get so close that we were scared that they might turn and charge the car. Fortunately they did not but they were so cool to watch. We could have stayed there forever but unfortunately we did have to get back to Pretoria.........

Thursday, 29 September 2011

visa issues

When we re entered South Africa at the trans frontier park, we encountered a bit of an unexpected issue. A custom official would only give us a visa for 7 days. We aren't exactly sure why as we had been told that 30 days was the norm. Since we were leaving South Africa in about 11 days, we had to extend our visa for just 4 extra days. Despite trying to rationalize with him and tell him that the advice we had received before that it would not be a problem to receive 30 days, he would not relent. Not only could we prove that we had sufficient funds and a return ticket home, it didn't seem to matter. He informed us that we would have to go to the home affairs office in Pretoria. We arrived Monday morning at the home affairs office only to find a long line! When we finally got to the front of the line an hour later, we were told that they were not exactly sure of the procedure. The lady at the front desk told us to wait so that she could ask her supervisor. After waiting for more than a half hour she finally returned only to realize that she forgot to ask her supervisor. When she finally did get around to asking him, he had no answer. He told us that we should come back the following day and talk to HIS boss. Needless to say, with most of the day wasted, it was very frustrating indeed. We came back the following day and were told that sure enough the only two options were to A. extend our visa at a cost of over $30 a day each or B. leave the country and return again. At this point we were so angry with South African immigration, we decided to leave the country. They did not make it easy on us even though we were ready to spend our hard earned money in their country. We rented a car and headed to Swaziland where we find ourselves, now and we will stay here until our current visa runs out and then return back to South Africa and hope they let us in....

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Traveling with strangers.... a journey in itself...

We woke up on morning number two of our journey with high hopes. We new that it was not too far to the beautiful dunes of Soussoslvei. It was very cold the night before and the chill seemed to stay for a good portion of the morning. We pack the van and loaded up for the short journey to Sessriem the gateway to the dunes. The gravel road wound its way through the desolate desert passing through the jagged peaks of stark brown mountains of the central Namibian plains. The beautiful peaks cast huge shadows over the yellow savannah as we went further into desolation. We passed several large groups of animals including many springbok and Oryx. We did not see any predators though as it was probably to late in the morning and we knew they would be sleeping. After only about a three hour drive we were at the small campsite/settlement called Sessriem. Another minute outpost in the middle of nowhere. We were assigned a campsite and settled in. That is to say that Erika and I set up our now dusty tent. Our two type A travel companions had other ideas. Both were chomping at the bit to get out to see the dunes. We decided to let them go on their own with the promise that they would return in the mid afternoon so we could go out and enjoy the area also. It was becoming way too hot too quickly and we had been on the road for so long the past few day that we needed some down time just to give our aching bodies some well needed rest. Immediately upon their return they were ready to go back out and explore. Nervous energy was prevalent between these two. We all hopped in to the van and venture along a beautiful paved tarmac toward our end destination, Soussoslvei. 60km later we hit the last 5k and were now off onto a deep sandy road which was for 4x4 only. We slogged through the sand and hit the end of the trail. Immediately our two type A's were out of the van and halfway up a dune before we even had a chance to put our shoes on! The wind had picked up and so as we slowly slogged our way up we were repeatedly blasted with the stinging sand. By the time we reached the top our companions were already down and trying to climb the next one. We on the other hand decided to stay on top and take full advantage of the incredible 360 panorama of these incredible red hued dunes that sprawled out in every direction. We watched as the sun slowly dropped over the horizon in sheer awe of this amazing landscape. We made our way down to the car and waited patiently for our travel mates to return. We knew that the park closed at 6:45 and that it was a certain hour to get back to the gate. We were cutting it close. They finally returned and we set off through the first 5km of sand at one point getting stuck to the point we all had to get out and push. We made it to the tarmac and set off toward the gate as darkness was setting in. Colin did not seem to sense that we needed to hurry back as he drove at a pace that would make a 90 year old proud. Slowing along the way in the dark to look at the various lizards that crossed the road. At one point turning the car around to search for a little 3 inch creature that certainly ran off into the nearby grass. All the other cars had long since passed us back to the gate and here we were trying to find reptiles in the dark. Sure enough we arrived 15 minutes late to the gate. Of course it was locked and no one was in sight. We sat for quite a while before a guard appeared. We explained that we got stuck in the sand for a long time knowing that the truth would not be a reasonable excuse. After much persuasion Silas, the watchman finally relented, mumbling under his breath his dissatisfaction. We were lucky as we could have been locked in all night. We decided to get up early the next day so we could see the sun rise over the dunes. We got to the gate a little late and were about 25 cars back in the Que so that we had to wait a while to be processed. We did make it to Dead Vlei and started to make our way up a dune of course the other two had long since disappeared on a mission. The Deadvlei was amazing as the intense contrast in colors of the dunes and the sky sat beautifully against the backdrop of the dead trees. We wandered around for a couple of hours until our type a's finally appeared. We wanted to stay longer at this enchanted place but they seemed bored and were ready to move on. Reluctantly we obliged. I am not sure where they wanted to go but we ended up basically making a slow drive back to camp where we spent the remainder of the afternoon. We had a nice nights sleep and made our way the next morning towards the south of Namibia. Neither of our mates seemed to have a clue on how to read a map, yet they did not want to listen to our suggestions on how to proceed forward. We ended up heading toward the south on roads that made the others look like super highways. Eventually we were starting to run out of real estate as we neared the South African border. Nightfall was soon upon us and there did not seem to be any type of civilization least wise campsites!! As luck would have it only 14kms from the border we found somewhere to camp. The two others were vacillating on whether we should do it when finally Erika and I put our foot down and said lets DO IT! They reluctantly agreed. I am not sure where they were thinking (big term for these two) but we had found a place. Needless to say we were the only campers. The following day we made it to Namibian customs and breezed through. We entered a kind of no mans land that was a HUGE game park in the middle of the Kalahari. South African customs was on the other side of the park. We booked a campsite, again Erika and I decided to book along the way as opposed to their suggestion of driving to the other side of the park and doing drives from that site. We did not realize that as soon as we entered the park Our driver Colin would slow his speed to about 5km an hour in search of the hidden animals that were all hiding in the heat of the day. SLOWLY we proceeded toward the first camp as he tried in vain to find anything moving. Not that we are experienced wildlife enthusiasts, but even we knew that most if not all animals take a break from the mid day heat. A few birds aside we saw NOTHING along the whole slow road to our first camp. When we finally arrived some 7 hours later (it was only 135km) we were all prepared to set up camp but our other two had other plans. They wanted to get out and search for animals right away. Our butts needed some respite so we convinced them to hold off for an hour. This was hard for Colin as he kept pacing around the tent site like a caged lion. We were able to get out and see a few animals though we were a bit disappointed by the sheer lack of numbers. I guess we were spoiled from Etosha. The next day Colin wanted to get up early so we could be first in line when the gates opened. The next morning we heard the engine come to life at 5:15! This despite the fact that the gate did not open until 6:30. When we made it to the car with a few minutes to spare to find that we were the only idiots at the gate at that time. What a shock. We spent the ENTIRE day driving up and around the parched Kalahari desert. We did manage to see many animals though not the numbers we had witnessed in Etosha. It seemed our driver was more interested in the limited bird and reptile life that existed. Towards the end of a VERY long day we finally were able to see a couple of male lions sleeping about 50 meters from the roadway. We stopped and watched for only a couple of minutes before Colin decided that we should pull about 300 meters forward for some unknown reason. We sat there for 25 minutes far away from the animals while the two woke from their slumber. Finally Jeff spoke up and asked if maybe we could move a little closer to the action. Colin put the car in reverse and literally moved less than 10 feet! Then stopped again and started talking to Kathy about our exit strategy from the park. This all the while as the 2 huge Cats proceeded to start looking for dinner!Unbelievable. As the sun set, and time was running short because the gates again closed at 6:30pm, we slowly made our way back to camp. We had literally about 10 minutes to go 15 km's in a 50 km/hr. zone. We thought for sure that we would have another situation on our hands. Of course this did not stop Colin from doing a u turn to take photos of a bird. We were both in shock having thought that he might have learned his lesson from before. We did make it through the gate not a minute too soon. We packed the car and got ready for the next morning's drive which we knew would be long since we had to get all the way to Pretoria, some 1100 km's away. Both Erika and I woke up early ready to go while the other two seemed to nonchalantly take their time even though they were the ones who wanted to make good time to Pretoria. The following morning after going through customs we drove virtually non stop except to fill up for gas which we seemed to be going through rapidly because Colin, even though he had his window rolled down, was blasting the air conditioning the whole way. The temperature during the day barely got above 70 degrees so we were a little perplexed. As stated, he did not want to stop at all, not bothering to ask whether Erika or I needed a break or to stop for a bite to eat. The journey itself passed quickly though the scenery was not much to write about. We got turned around several times as our navigator and pilot were not able to read maps nor road signs very well. Erika and I just sat in the back and laughed knowing that even if we wanted to give an opinion, it would have been disregarded straight out. We finally arrived in Pretoria around 9pm that evening and ended up finding a backpackers that we could settle into. We were thankful to finally be rid of these two (and maybe them us)...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Another day, another adventure

We were able to return our rental car early Sunday morning with relatively little hassle. Golf ball size rock chip in the windscreen aside, the car was in damn good shape considering that we traveled on some pretty bad gravel roads. We decided after such a long journey that we would take it easy and hang out in Windhoek for a couple of days. Giving us some time alone to relax and re-energize from the journey up North. Chameleon seemed like just the place. We spent the better part of the day trying to get the brown, red dust removed from not only every piece of clothing and our now, near unrecognizable backpacks but from our hair and bodies including about a pound in each ear. We, unfortunately, had to wash and re-wash our filthy clothes many times over because the water kept turning milky brown. Our next mission was to figure out how we were to get down to Soussesvlei, Namibia's number 1 attraction. It is an enormous series of red sand dunes stretching for hundreds of kilometers along what is known as the skeleton coast. The problem, once again, is that there is absolutely no public transportation so we needed to figure out a way to visit. The stress of driving on those gravel roads was almost too much. As luck would have it, that very same day, we met a couple of other Americans. A researcher and his intern who just happened to be planning a trip down to Soussesvlei the very next day. They kindly invited us along for the ride on the condition that we would split the costs. At the time it seemed like a no brain er for us, even though we had wanted to stay an extra day or so in Windhoek we just didn't want to pass up this opportunity. The following morning, we packed and loaded up the old VW van and set off West for the dunes. On our way we made one quick detour to pick up a couple of foam pads since both of our air mattresses had "expired". Despite repeated attempts at patching and re-patching, they were as flat as Swedish pancakes. Sleeping on the hard ground had finally taken it's toll on our ravaged backs so we needed something, anything! The 1/2 inch foam seemed better than nothing. We spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon driving south and west from Windhoek leaving the comfy confines of the tarmac about an hour outside the city. The bumpy, gravel road undulated like an old wooden roller coaster through the barren, rocky hills. Occasionally, opening up to large swaths of bright yellow savannah grasslands. Fortunately the van is a 4x4 as we had to cross several clear blue streams. There was quite a bit of wildlife strewn about the parched landscape. At one point we came upon a huge troop of baboons and their young. We stopped to take a quick peek as many of them scampered toward the tree line for safety. As soon as they felt they were a comfortable range, they turned back and peered at us wondering if we had any provisions that they could possibly pilfer. But before they could make a move back towards the van, we took off knowing how ferocious and relentless these beasts can be. As we ventured further down the windy road through the stark yellow and brown landscape, we finally reached the aptly named settlement of Solitaire. Calling Solitaire a town would be quite an exaggeration. There are only 4 little buildings and a petrol station. We decided it would be as good a place as any to camp for the night since it was isolated and empty. After settling in, Erika and I decided to take a little stroll out into the Savannah as the sun was beginning to set. The 360 degree panoramic view of the yellow grasses growing in the desert wind contrasted with the brown mountains in the far off distance. The sun had never looked so big as it dropped down towards the Craggie hills turning the sky ablaze in oranges and reds slowly turning to maroon and purple. After walking back we made a hearty dinner by campfire and settled in as the heat of the day rapidly dissipated. Soon it was getting so cold that we retired to our little tent to the warmth of our well used sleeping bags. As we looked up the sky seemed to be filled with a million stars as we fell fast asleep to the stillness of the Namibian desert.....

Sunday, 18 September 2011

North of Namibia

Well... we finally were able to get a car sorted here in Windhoek. Took a little bit of doing but in the end we were able to get everything settled. After some indecisiveness, Robyn (the Aussie girl) decided to come along with us. Our guest house promised that Budget rental car would not give our car away so we were off. We woke up early Sunday morning, packed and picked up a car. We got insurance coverage that included EVERYTHING because we knew that two main road ways that bisect were all that were paved, the rest is gravel. This of course can cause problems with rock chips on the windscreen. Total coverage in Namibia does not mean everything. For example, the undercarriage, wheels, tires, and water and sand damage along with excessive dirt (whatever that means) are all not covered. We packed up and were about to set off when a Welsh Guy Chris (after vascillating for the better part of 36 hours finally decided he would join us)... The drive out of town turned into a pretty straight shot due North. The road made only a few gradual turns the first 200 km's as we zipped past the flat desert landscape. We were making good time as many cars seemed to breeze by us when suddenly off in the distance a policeman appeared in the middle of the road. He flagged us down and when we pulled over, he informed Jeff, who at the time was driving, that he had been speeding. Even though seemingly many cars had passed us , WE got pulled over. He asked Jeff to exit the vehicle and walk to the other side of the highway where his radar sat perched and showed that we were going about 9 kms (5 miles) over the speed limit. The officer opened a ticket book showing that the fine could be up to 2000 Namibian dollars (approx. 300 US) OUCH!!!! At that point, Jeff asked the cop if there was anything he could do to avoid paying such a stiff penalty. The cop himmed and hawed and said "probably not", Jeff said isn't there some way we can take care of this here in Branard? (Fargo reference)... The cop played dumb and said what do you mean and Jeff pulled out a 100 dollar note (Namibian) and said maybe this will take care of it. The cop took the money, thanked Jeff and once again we were off. After a couple more hours we found our way into Etosha National Park. Erika went into reception and tried to secure us a campsite spot. At first she was told the site was completely full, but after some sweet talking she was able to procure us a nice site for the night. Etosha is unlike many game parks. First it is extremely flat, as it is set flush against the Etosha pan. A dried salt lake that only fills during the rainy season. The main attraction to Etosha is the fact that there are many water holes set throughout the park. One only has to park the car next to one of these water holes and wait...... Eventually the animals show up... and boy do they ever!!! We saw amazing amounts of zebras, springbok, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and even huge prides of lions. We spent hours just sitting by the various local holes just watching in amazement as one group of animals after another came slowly, cautiously up to the water. Many knew that the predators lurked somewhere out in the bush. Sure enough there were many jackals, cheetah and lions waiting for the right moment. Four full days of watching these incredible interactions went way too quickly. We were fortunate enough to see lions not only hunt but kill several animals. Gruesome to watch but a definite part of the life cycle. After leaving Etosha we headed toward Damaraland. A very interesting part of Namibia. Extremely desolate and with little or no water it is amazing to think that people can actually live out in this harsh environment. We spent a couple of days around an area called Kamanjab. Sleeping under a million stars with the only sounds being the occasional bird or stray jackal howl. After a couple of days we headed south toward the coast along a very rocky and bumpy gravel road. There was little sign of life aside from the occasional patchwork shack alongside the roadway. Usually these had a few people trying to sell various souveniers. Many were manned by a curios tribe called the Himba. These people are what one may imagine when they think of "African tribes" The woman wear only a small loin cloth covering their privates. They are all bare chested, with an orange ochre covering their bodies. Their hair is braided with the orange tint also. The children also only wear a small g-string type outfit. It is quite fascinating. These people are so very primitive and poor. Seeing them along side the road in the middle of nowhere is disheartening. We purchased a small bracelet so they could make probably their one sale of the week as there did not seem to be too many if any cars on the road. Of course the last 20 k before we reached the coastal road we passed a group of 4 motorcycles, one which shot up a huge rock and of course it hit the wind screen... Thank goodness for insurance!! Luckily we made it to the Town of Swapkomund. A strange German town straight from Hansel and Gretel set on the coast of Africa. Replete with German bakeries and shops it was like a time warp. The town along with most of the coast was covered in a fog so it seemed like we were back at home except for the Konditeri!! After a week we were able to make it back in one piece, one chipped window, and a bribe later at least we were safe!! We are now planning somehow to get to the huge sand dunes that are south of Windhoek. Not sure of how we are going to get there since there is NO public transport but we will figure out a way. We will let you know.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Best laid plans

We made it to Windhoek, found one of the better backpackers we have stayed in right in central city, our next mission was to try to organize a car so that we could explore the country as Namibia is similar to Botswana in the fact that there are no real public transport options to get you to places of interest. Car rental is exceedingly expensive so our mission was to find one or two people to share. As luck would have it a girl that we had spent much time with at Butterfly in Malawi was heading into Windhoek. We had previously discussed with her sharing options and we knew she was keen. While chatting to various people at the backpackers we also met an Aussie guy who wanted to come along. He was a bit younger but seemed to be more or less on the same wave length which is good when you are going to spend 24/7 with a complete stranger. We spent the better part of a day and a half researching via internet various car companies trying to find a suitable ride that would not only be economical but that would be able to survive the wear and tear of the Namibian desert. We found a number of places that were totally booked out but a couple had posted on their websites to come visit the office. So, we set out on foot to check out what was available. We ended up finding two companies that were within the price range and car type that we wanted. One of which happened to be through the travel agency located at our backpackers lodge. We decided after much discussion to with them. It was getting late in the afternoon and they told us that we could book the car and that we could settle up first thing in the morning. This is important because we also needed to make sure we have reservations for a campsite at Etosha National Park as they book up quickly. This, being high season, we realized that we were reduced to certain days only. The four of us met late in the afternoon to do some serious planning and to go shopping all together. We decided that we would wake up for breakfast at 7am and pick up our car by 8am so that we could be on the road as early as possible. We woke up before first light, packed our gear, and headed for breakfast. Our first clue that things were amiss was that the Aussie was nowhere to be found by 7:45am. Finally, Erika went to search for him and found him in his room nonchalantly mucking about. She, in her best political way, said "we need to get a move on". He responded OK and she went to find Jeff who was on the computer making sure that there was enough money in the checking account. About 15 minutes later, the Aussie came out and asked if he could speak with Erika at which point he asked her if she worries a lot and then proceeded to ask her if she was controlling. This took Erika aback as she is anything but controlling. Right then she had a bitter taste in her mouth but she controlled her ego and let it slide. By 8am we went to the rental office where we were informed that the car we had booked had been given away and that there were no other vehicles available at the time. We were stunned. We had specifically asked if we should pay a security deposit the night before and were told that it was not necessary. We were very upset needless to say. We tried to call Robin, the other Aussie from Butterfly to inform her not to pay for the park reservations since we did not have a car. Luckily we were able to catch her on the phone as she was standing at the office, money in hand. She came back to the guest house and we tried to re-group. The three of us decided, no problem we will figure out a way to go the next day. It was then the young Aussie boy appeared and upon hearing the news decided that he was going to bail out. It was obvious to us that he had made up his mind the night before as we saw him gallivanting around the backpackers trying to chat up all the single Europeans that were around. He did not want to wait even 24 hours more. At that point, a representative from the rental agency appeared and said they could have a car for us at 10:30am but we knew, having been here in Africa, that 10:30 could mean 4pm or later. This obviously would not give us enough time to drive the 500 km + distance to make it to the park before nightfall before they close the gates. So now, we are at square one again and we will try to sort everything out and get on the road. In the meantime we are in Windhoek which is a very modern city. The bright side is that we could be stuck somewhere a lot worse. We will let you know as soon as we know....

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Where are we going today?

Maun is a strange place. Located in the center north of Botswana. The town is smack dab in the middle of the Kalahari desert.We stopped at a place called Audi camp, a nice oasis swathed in African colors. The area itself is very interesting because of the combination of the gray desert sand interspersed with tropical shrubbery sprouting up from the parched soil. Huge herds of goats seem to roam the streets unattended munching on the dessert scrub. Wild donkeys are seen also throughout the entire region. We have no idea who these gray animals belong to as they wander about along the side of the road. Its as if they have free reign of the dusty town. Our initial plan was to go on a mokoro ride (a dug out canoe) through the Okavango Delta but after talking to a number of people at Audi camp, none of them seemed super enthusiastic about the trip so we decided to fore go a journey. Not one person was able to see ANY wildlife since the delta was flooded more so than in over 30 years. People said that for the money it just was not worth the effort. Our thinking then was that if we could go North from Maun towards the Caprivi Strip along the Okavango Delta we might have better luck. After a lot of research, both on the web and asking locals and tourists alike, it seemed doable, though not easy. Unfortunately the deciding factor was that a bridge only 30 kms outside of Maun was washed out. Making the journey incredibly long if not impossible. As luck would have it we met a Namibian who informed us that various Angolan rebels were known to be hiding up in the hills. Erika was picturing us trying to hitch rides with our huge packs and suddenly being picked up by a truck load of Angolan rebels. It was then we decided maybe heading west to Windhoek would be the prudent option. Our luck was with us because that same morning we made that fateful decision a Namibian pastor of German descent living in South Africa happened to be leaving for Windhoek that very morning. The night before we had made plans to catch a ride into town with 3 Spaniards we had met to give us a ride to the bus station. So we were once again caught in a good situation by being flexible. Robert, a Lutheran pastor was able to fit us and our mobile homes/backpacks into his little VW Golf. We were off before 8am. I wish I could say that the drive through the Kalahari was scenic but I would be lying. We headed Southwest through the gray/beige sands with scrub brush as far as the eye could see. Robert, our driver had the peddle to the metal averaging about a 160 km/hour (100 mph). We made one pit stop in a town called Ganzi, a secluded barren Botswanan outpost with only a few shops, government offices and a petrol station. We continued through the Kalahari passing the few small roadside villages toward the Namibian frontier. The border post was literally in the middle of nowhere. Immigration was a breeze at both sides. We made even better time in Namibia as Robert kept up the speed as the mid-day sun beat down up on us. We stopped at the only town called Gobabis for lunch, an interesting one road town. Ladies dressed in ornate, Victorian era dresses belonging to the Herero tribe wandering the streets. Namibia is an old German colony so most streets, shops and restaurants have German names. Lunch was typical German fare, Bratwurst, meat balls, and other gray meats along with potato salad a great change from the rice and nshima we've had over the past several months. We continued full speed ahead toward Windhoek. The flat, barren landscape finally gave way to some rolling hills, some 150 km East of the capital. Robert was able to get us into Windhoek around 5pm, he was kind enough to drop us off in the city center where we caught a taxi to Chameleon Backpackers. The 9 hour journey was finally finished. Thanks to Erika, as we were both lucky to catch a lift, otherwise it might have taken us days if not weeks to make it through the Kalahari via public transport or hitching...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

On to Maun

We enjoyed our time at Chobe immensely. Our campsite is located close to the river so we were able to fall asleep to the sounds of laughing hippos each night. At times it sounded like several were lurking just outside our tent. Erika was awake early in dire need of a cup of coffee. She befriended a German couple that were on a private safari with a driver and cook in tow at the next campsite over. We ended up spending the better part of the morning with them listening to their tales of various adventures through Africa and enjoying a nice cup of jo. They were scheduled to leave that afternoon and the driver told Erika that he and his cook were headed back to Maun via the national park later that day. Brazenly, Erika thought to herself "what the hell" and asked if we might be able to hitch a ride with the two of them. The driver, Kilo, was more than generous and said after he dropped off his clients at the airport he would return to pick us up. We asked Kilo approximately how much the ride would cost, he responded that he would figure it out on his way back from the airport and he would let us know. We just wanted a rough estimate so that we could make sure we had enough Pula. This would be a great opportunity if it worked out. Public transport is virtually nonexistent in northern Botswana. We did find out that there was one bus a day that could take us to a town called Nata. From there we would need to change buses for the remainder of the journey to Maun. The bus left at 5am which would mean getting up before 4am to break down our tent and find a taxi to the bus station. It went without saying that we were hoping that Kilo would come back with a fair price. Kilo finally made it back a few hours later, he told us we could have a lift through the park to Maun and give him whatever WE thought was fair. We loaded our packs in the truck and took off. The first 40km w through this part of Chobe was great!
A freshly laid piece of tarmac afforded us the opportunity to make good time. even having left shortly after noon time we thought, at this pace we could cover the 350 kms and be able to set up our tent well before dark. Suddenly the car lurched as we veered off the beautiful asphalt. We left the pavement for what appeared to be a sandy one lane track, heading straight into the Botswana desert. Almost immediately kilo stopped the truck and proceeded to change the wheels to accommodate the deep sandy track. What we first thought would be an easy drive turned out to be quite an adventure. We drove along the dust strewn trail bisecting the parched park. We passed several large herds of elephants and giraffes that were hiding in the shade along the way. The occasional warthog would also scamper across the road. It was quite stunning as we slowly traversed the dry landscape. We drove for what would be several hours across the sands of the Kalahari. It was amazing as we only encountered about a half a dozen vehicles coming the other direction for the entire journey. Finally, we came to the end of the park just as the sun was sinking in the African sky. Immediately outside the park gates a huge herd of elephants strolled lazily alongside the road as if to bid us farewell. Shortly after the park gates the road turned to gravel and we were able to make better time. The final stop we made was at the buffalo fence. This is the fence that is several hundreds of KM's long separating the wild animals from the domestic ones. The gate guards wanted to make sure we were not carrying any meat for fear of foot and mouth disease. Naturally, we weren't. The final hour and a half of the drive was illuminated by the streaks of intense red and orange turning to darkness as we passed several villages along the way. Kilo was kind enough to take us all the way to Audi camp where we were able to pitch our tent. He was such an amazingly kind man, going out of his way to help us out. We have found such hospitality throughout our entire time on this incredible continent.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


We ended up spending a couple of extra days in Livingstone.. This was due to Erika not feeling well. Jollyboys was as good a place as any to lay low and help her recover. The town of Livingstone is quite modern and a far cry from what we had been used to in Nkhata Bay. They even had a FULLY stocked supermarket replete with milk products, a bakery and a meat counter. We were in HEAVEN! After a number of days of resting we finally decided to try and make a move. The next destination was going to be Kasane, Botswana, the gateway to Chobe National Park. There was a bus to take us to the border town of Kasungula scheduled to leave at 12:30pm. Naturally the bus did not show up until just before 2pm. We were able to change our remaining kwacha into Botswana Pula at the 5th and final bank that we went in to as none of the others had any pula. We bordered the near empty bus (it was just us and 2 other people along with 3 bus employees), the ride took only about an hour to the border post. Just before the border we passed what seemed like a couple of km's que of trucks lined up on the side of the road. It turns out that these trucks can wait up to a month to cross the river to the other side. We breezed through Zambian customs then made the 200 meter walk down to the river front. We boarded a "ferry" along with one semi and a couple of cars for the 5 minute crossing to Botswana. We grabbed our now engorged packs and in the mid day sun made our way towards the immigration post. Not knowing exactly where to go, we followed the crowd of locals for a couple of hundred meters, each step became more cumbersome between the weight on our backs and the intense heat. We must have looked absolutely spent, because a car pulled along side of us and offered us a lift to immigration. Good thing they did because it was at least another 700 meters to passport control. We exited the car, bags in hand, the driver said we could store our bags in the boot while we went through immigration. We hesitated knowing that THAT was rule number one (never lose sight of one's backpacks). On instinct and with the driver assuring us that he would follow us inside we took a leap of faith. It only took us 5 minutes to fill in the proper forms and get our entry stamps. Luckily, the car and our packs were still there. The two people offered to give us a ride all the way into Kasane (about 15km away), it turned out that one lady worked for the anti-poaching office. The short drive in was great as we passed several elephants and warthogs crossing the roadway. We were fascinated at this sight but to the two locals it was like passing by a traffic light (ho hum...) She took us directly to a lodge that had been recommended to us by a couple of peace corp. volunteers that we had befriended in Livingstone. As we pulled up to the entrance both of us thought that they brought us to the wrong place. The lodge was quite ornate with all the amenities and luxuries of a 5 star hotel. We meekly entered in our shabby clothes and asked at reception if indeed we were in the right spot. They assured us that we were and escorted us past the luxury villas and rondvels to a dusty area about 50 meters from the river that was there campsite. We found our designated spot, set up our tent under the only two trees available. As soon as we set up camp we made our way down the main road towards town. We wanted to book a game drive for the next morning. Our peace corp. friends had given us a rough idea of costs so we could shop and compare the different offerings. We split up and shopped a couple of different tour offices. We reconvened about 30 minutes later to compare notes. We decided to go with the booking agency called NKWE. Tebs, the manager seemed friendly, straight forward and honest. We woke up the next morning around 5:30am, got dressed and made our way to reception. We were greated by Lungo, our guide for the morning. We picked up two more people, a father and daughter who happened to be from Rhode Island and made our way into Chobe. The first half of the 3.5 hour drive was rather unspectacular. Chobe has been devastated by the over 100,000 elephants that call it home. Most of the entry area has been turned into a sandy desert with only a few thorny bushes remaining. However, as we moved further into the park we were able to see much more animal life. Giraffes, hippos, baboons and lots of elephants. Finally we came upon a small pride of lions that were munching on a baby elephant they had killed during the night. By the time we arrived the mama lions had seemed to have eaten their share while the younger cubs were fighting over the scraps. We watched for a very long time as the younger ones ripped effortlessly through the flesh like a hot knife going through butter. It was incredible! At one point, one of the lions approached the vehicle coming only a few feet away. We took a short rest after that along the riverfront. Afterwards we returned to the pride to find all of them in food coma as the heat coming off the savannah looked to take it's toll. On the way out of the park we passed several more animals including a large herd of elephants chomping their way toward the town. We wandered back to our camp and took a short nap until our tent became as hot as a Swedish sauna. Then we ventured into town to do some shopping and have some lunch. The afternoon portion of our excursion was by boat along the Chobe River. This trip on a small 8 seat boat was by far our favorite to date. Again, we were paired with the two Americans along with our guide Vincent. Vincent proved to be extremely knowledgable in the various animal, reptile, and bird life that clung to the banks and inhabited the river. Hundreds of hippos lay partly submerged in the shallow depths avoiding the afternoon heat. Massive crocodiles swam undisturbed in the murky waters while several other crocs lay on the banks. Several of these crocs were MASSIVE measuring more than 5 meters long from snout to tail. Needless to say, even though we were extremely hot, swimming in the river was not an option. We saw several colorful bird species including storks, fish eagles, and egyptian geese. The highlight was as we made our return journey back towards the campsite's jetty. By this time the sun was slowly setting towards the far reaches of Namibia, several huge herds of elephants were slowly making their way towards the river bank to make the nightly crossing to the Namibian side of the river. We were able to circle around the small grassy island as the HUGE red globe filled the sky. With dark silouettes of hundreds of elephants stretched out before us, it was magic!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Zambia round 2

It was nice to get back to Chipata and Dean's Hill View Lodge. Dean is an affable British chap who is slowly building himself a quaint lodge. Set on a wooded plot over looking the town of Chipata and the rolling hills beyond. Even though we are only 30 kms from the Malawian border and still in the heart of Southern Africa, we seem to be worlds away from Nkhata Bay. Zambia appears to be in much better financial shape than Malawi. There are more cars, and bicycles and the store shelves have a much wider selection available. Even the outdoor markets seem to sell a greater range of vegetables all of which look a lot healthier. We ended up spending a couple of nights at Deans just relaxing and taking in the sights and smells of the heavily Islamic influenced town of Chipata. We seemed to be two of only a very small handful of travelers in town. We spent a lot of time cruising the isles of the local Shoprite market searching for long sought after foods including yogurt! In Malawi we were only able to get our hands on a yogurt like drink that was quite sour and not very flavorful so a liter of yogurt in a variety of flavors was instantly a hit. Along with finding a fresh pineapple, we were in heaven. On the way back from the store with our hands full of groceries we decided not to make the 4km walk back to Dean's Hill, instead we hired a couple of guys with bicycles. We both sat on nice padded seats and let the boys do all the work while we enjoyed the lush scenery. The 20 minute ride back to the guest house cost us .50 cents each. We decided to see if we could make a move Westward the next day towards Lusaka and eventually back to Livingstone. Dean informed us that the best time to catch a bus was early at 5am so we tried to plan accordingly. We got to bed early at night and set our alarm for 3:45am - Yikes! This was so that we could disassemble our tent with enough time to catch our taxi at 4:30am. We double checked with reception that there was indeed a taxi coming at that ungodly hour then fell asleep to the sounds of blaring music from a nightclub down the road. We did feel a bit like senior citizens going to bed so early. We slept ok thanks to heavy duty earplugs which we never leave home without. Jeff woke up at one point and looked at his watch... it was 4:12am!! Obviously we had slept through the alarm. In record time, in the darkness of the Zambian night, we were miraculously able to disassemble our tent, deflate our air mattresses, pack all of our gear and sleeping bags in exactly in 19 minutes, all this from a deep sleep. On cue, the taxi honked his horn at exactly 4:30am as promised. The short ride in the darkness to the long distance bus station cost us only 20kwacha ($4 US) even at that unseemly hour. Upon exit of the taxi is when the real fun began. We did not reserve seats with the preferred bus company the day before (don't ask why we are usually much more proficient)_ As we grabbed our bags, we were literally surrounded by a dozen or so touts each screaming and trying to grab our packs to lure us to their respective buses. Normally this would not have been so bad but at4:30am with no coffee in our bellies and in the pitch dark, it was a bit overwhelming. At one point, Jeff screamed at the top of his lungs to these guys to "BACK OFF" but his voice barely carried over the madness. We were finally able to find a corner to hide and stow our packs. While Jeff sat watch, Erika set off to find a bus that was departing at 5am sharp and hopefully was fairly direct. Of course, each tout proclaimed their bus filled all of our stringent criteria including being the "safest". Erika had the smarts to ask the conductor of the bus that was already full which company he recommended and the gentlemen was nice enough to escort us to the departing bus. Once we got ourselves and our packs loaded onto the right bus, we found a couple of seats in the middle (this is the best spot, not in the back, too bumpy, not in the front, in case of an accident) of course the kid who helped clear space in the empty bus wanted money for placing our bags in the back (about $5) even though he did actually nothing to assist us. He was quite adamant that we should pay even though none of the other (non-white passengers) had paid a single kwacha. We held firm for quite some time before he realized his efforts were fruitless. Luckily the bus took off shortly after 5am thought only half full which we knew meant that it would not be a nonstop affair. Sure enough we made a number of stops picking up passengers and their worldly possessions along the way. Zambian buses unlike their Malawian counterparts seemed to limit the number of passengers. This meant there were no people stuffed in the aisles though we did share the ride with an odd chicken. We were able to make pretty good time on the tarmac towards Lusaka. Zambia in stark contrast to Malawi is quite sparsely populated. We did not pass too many settlements along the way. The scenery consisted of rolling, verdant hills as far as the eye could see. The change in seasons was apparent as they are heading into the "hot" season. Many of the lush trees were starting to lose their foliage. We were able to pull into Lusaka by 1:30pm and by that point we both decided to try and fore go a night in the hell hole called Lusaka and press on towards Livingstone, another 8 hour bus ride away. As luck would have it, we were able to procure the last two tickets for the 2pm bus onward!! We crossed the station and after stowing our packs, climbing aboard the bus just as it was pulling out of the station. Of course, only 15 minutes into the ride, barely on the outskirts of town we had to fill it with petrol so that instantly added a half hour to our long journey. One still can not fathom why they don't fill the bus ahead of time but TIA (This is Africa). The ride to Livingstone was actually uneventful which was a nice change and we were comfortable for the most part as we headed West following the sun as it slowly set over the outstretched savanna. Our backsides started to become sore and the last couple of hours that we spent cruising through the darkness of the Zambian night we fidgeted until we could find a comfortable spot. It was apparent that the driver felt as we did because he seemed to swerve from one side of the road to the other only keeping to the correct side as oncoming lights approached. I must admit I have never been a fan of night driving especially in a third world country. We finally pulled in to Livingstone a little after 10pm some 18 hours after we started our day. Fortunately for us, Jollyboys Backpackers had a campsite available because all the rooms were fully booked. Somehow, we were able to pitch our tent in the dark and shortly thereafter fell soundly asleep, the end of a very long day....

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Farewell Butterfly

We ended up staying in Nkhata Bay through the 17th. The protests turned out to be a non event as the UN intervened and all was quiet. We did prepare for a worst case scenario buying loads of food and having an emergency pack filled with all the bare necessities for an easy escape. We figured worst case we would grab one of the many dugout canoes and paddle as far out into the lake as possible. We laugh now at the thought of us two paddling furiously out into the deep waters in one of those small canoes. It was a good thing that we were able to stick around Butterfly because two occupational therapists arrived on the 17th from England. These two young ladies, Moyna and Yvonne were absolutely incredible. We were able to spend a number of days with them escorting them to the various small villages where all of the different members of the special needs group lived. These two extremely talented women were able to meet each child and after spending a considerable amount of time and obtaining background information from their respective parents through a battery of questions, they were able for the most part to assess each individuals needs and then design a program tailored to help each child try to become more independent. We were both fascinated as we watched these two miracle workers do their magic. Whether it was showing the children that are affected with Cerebral Palsy or Polio, a series of stretches, or helping the learning impaired with charts of repetitive actions, they both seemed to know exactly what was needed for each individual. We learned an incredible amount from these two. The biggest challenge they faced besides working with limited or no resources was in trying to convince the family members that they were there to help. Most people were very skeptical to say the least. Having relied for many years on witch doctors for most of their medical needs, to bring them around to Western ways was no small task. The thought of the villagers was that by saying a few prayers and drinking some concoction, the children would be "fixed". It was obvious to all of us that this method did not work. Unfortunately the families had over the years spent a kings ransom to these "quacks" with no tangible results. Usually putting the child's health more at risk since they did not seek proper medical advice (not that Malawi has much in the way of resources). The wealth of information that we were able to obtain from these two Brits was at times almost overwhelming. However, it gave us such an insight to how one is able to help even a little people with disabilities try to lead more productive lives. At one point, while in the house of a small child whose body was ravaged by the effects of polio we were brought to tears as the ladies tried to lay the girl flat on her stomach to stretch out her poor, mangled limbs. She screamed in pain as the girls tried to massage and coax her to lay flat but to no avail. All in all, it was an incredible week shared by us and these two amazing women.

We made one more long hike up to the home of Jonathan, one of the nightwatchmen. He had invited us several times to visit his village and each time something had come up and we were not able to go (usually one of us had some sort of stomach ailment). The long walk (1.5 hours) was strenuous yet stunning as we climbed the hills behind the lake passing through several small villages along the way. The climb to Jonathan's house was well worth it as we were afforded several beautiful panoramic vistas of the lake below. We were both amazed at how difficult the terrain we had to cross in order to get to Jonathan's humble abode. Both of us in awe of this wonderful man knowing that he made this epic journey twice a day, six days a week in order to get to his job at Butterfly. We had the extreme pleasure of meeting his family.. They prepared a wonderful meal for us consisting of casava (a vegetable tasted much like boiled potatoes) some steamed green vegetables and a hard boiled egg. We were both almost in tears as we realized that the family had enough food to feed themselves and that even one egg was a considerable luxury. We remembered passing Jonathan one day on the way to town a few weeks prior in his hands he was carrying about a dozen cracked eggs and a few almost rotten tomatoes up the hill to his village. We knew he had bought those discards because a whole egg or fresh tomato was well out of his budget. The things we take for granted. After spending a few hours playing with the kids and teaching them hopscotch and a few other games we made our way back down the long, dusty trail in virtual silence, reflecting upon how blessed we truly are.

Our planned departure was scheduled on Wednesday. This was because Alice was to get married on the 27th and most of her family and friends were coming in for the big day and she needed all the available space. We packed up and arranged a wake up call for 4:45am. We contacted a taxi to pick us up at 5:15am so that we were assured on getting a seat on the 6:30am bus heading for Lilongwe. That morning Jeff was yet again not feeling great as his stomach was in turmoil. We sat patiently watching the sun fill the early morning sky and waited for our taxi. 5:15 passed, then 5:30, by 5:45 we were able to get one of the night watchmen to call for another taxi. By 6:15 when neither showed up we decided that we would adjourn back having found out later that there actually was no bus due to the fuel shortage in Malawi. Jeff, not feeling well was secretly smiling inside knowing that a 9 hour bus ride in his present condition would have been hell. Having been evicted from our "luxury" suite, we were put into the last couple of remaining beds in a dorm in the afternoon. We mentally and physically prepared ourselves to get up once again with the roosters. This time, however, we were offered a ride from Roan, a lady who was in Nkhata to attend Alice's wedding. The two English girls, Moyna and Yvonne, decided to leave a day early to ensure they made their flight in time so the four of us set out together for Lilongwe. It was nice to have the company since we all got along fabulously. The 9 hour ride along the lakeshore is the usual, eventful journey. The over-packed, rambling bus which reeked of bad B.O. and vomit made it's way down the Western shore of Lake Malawi. Almost immediately a small infant got hit square in the head with a hard piece of luggage that had become dislodged from the overhead rack. The poor boy continued to wail throughout the long ride as it became obvious he was not well. About two hours further into the journey we witnessed a teenage boy get hit by the truck in front of us as he was riding his bicycle. As the bus slowed we sat helplessly wedged into our seats as he lay motionless on the ground streams of blood oozing from his severly fractured leg. Instinct told us all to go to help but it was impossible to try and fight through the mass of humanity that was crowded onto the old bus. It was probably a good thing that we were stuck only because we were not prepared to help with any medical supplies. With the amount of blood flowing from the wound, we would have all been very much at risk to a number of infections including HIV. It was such a sick feeling knowing that there was really nothing any of us could do. We just hope that this poor kid was able to receive some type of medical attention before he bled out. Further along the road we witnessed another girl whose arm got slammed shut in the bus door as the driver, not realizing she was there, began to move. She screamed in agony as he finally released the door's grip. All in all it was just another "typical" third world bus trip. Thankfully we arrived in one piece and found a great hotel in Lilongwe. Clean, quiet rooms with a hot shower and even water pressure. Best of all, much to Jeff's delight the room price included a breakfast buffet. We both got a great nights sleep and woke refreshed for our next journey over to Chipata, Zambia. After bidding farewell to our new friends, we made the 5 hour journey by a series of different mini buses and taxis to the border. At one point, having to change transportation modes in the middle of nowhere because one mini bus refused to go further. We walked through both immigrations and fetched a taxi for the 30 KM ride back to Dean's Hill View where we had stayed some months prior. Looking back on our time in Malawi, and specifically Butterfly, we are in complete awe in what the two girls, specifically Alice have accomplished in such an impoverished place. Both of our lives have been changed forever and indeed for the better. We just hope that the minute fraction that we were able to contribute in our time spent will maybe make a difference......

morning time

Mornings here are by far our favorite time of day. It is impossible to sleep in here. The day commences at first light long before sunrise the shades of pastel orange and gray streak across the sky illuminating the misty waters of the lake. The sun makes it´s leisurely ascent over the distant silhouette of the mountains of Mozambique. The gentle sound of the waves lapping against the shore wake us. The sound of women as their bare feet slap against the smooth stones coming closer as they near the shore. Their voices sing out like birds. The tones are anything but hushed as they echo against the jungle floor. Several of them descend upon the shoreline like ants to a picnic. Buckets full of soiled dishes and laundry perched perilously upon their heads. Dropping the buckets on the minute strand the clanging of dishes echo softly across the water. Last night’s pots of nshima are allowed first to soak first in the shallows of the illuminous waters. As the dishes soak, the soiled clothes are thrown into the lake one by one. Once wet soap is applied and then the women beat and knead the ragged fabric against the smooth rocks much like a baker kneads his bread. Once finished the lake makes an ideal place to rinse the soap. As the soap quickly dissipates into the clear waters, canoes each hand dug start to appear coming in both directions as just a dimly lit outline of their muscular bodies and paddles can be seen. Most of them are paddling inland from last night’s fishing expedition heading to market with their evening´s catch. The early morning conversations are lively between the passing men in their crafts and the women along the shoreline. The sun continues its slow climb into the sky as more canoes fill the waters. We sit in awe drinking our coffee as we watch the day to day life of these amazing people. Oh how we do love the morning time on the lake.....

Monday, 22 August 2011

Hospital Visit

Unfortunately, we made an impromptu visit to the Nkhata Bay Central Hospital yesterday. The good news is that neither of us was in need of patient care. Poor Alice, though had come down with some type of illness which she thought could be malaria. The same day a number of us including Jeff came down with something that seemed to be food poisoning symptoms. Alice too had complained of general malaise, nausea, achy bones just like the others. Both Jeff and Erika were a little panicked at the time because of the fear of malaria crept into their heads. For Alice after about 3 days of not feeling well and having gone to see the private doctor who administered a rapid malaria test which proved negative at the time, she came home. It is our understanding that the rapid test though effective can show many false negatives before showing a correct positive. Alice finally relented and went by taxi to the hospital. All of us thought she was being silly not going straight away. She was admitted immediately and ended up spending a couple of nights. On day 2, we decided to go visit her. Jeff was starting to feel a bit better from his prolonged ailment so we made the walk over. The hospital is about a half hour walk from Butterfly space and visiting hours are early in the morning which we missed, or noontime. We decided to go at noon and made it over in the searing heat of the day. Upon approach, the first thing we noticed as we got closer to the hospital was many women outside sitting in large groups. Upon closer inspection many of the groups had small fires lit with pots of nshima cooking. Many others sat trying to catch what little shade was available to them for a quick nap. We found the entrance and came into the decrepit building, immediately our nasal passages were assaulted at the stench of vomitous. The dark, dank walls had not been thoroughly cleaned since the buildings inception. We walked down the dimly lit hallways passing several women who sat perched against the scruffy walls. Many sullen and downtrodden. There did not seem to be any hospital staff in sight. We passed several wards along the maze of dirty corridors before we stumbled upon the room that held Alice. The large, sombre room with worn out paint and solitary incandescent light bulb filled the room. The beds which numbered over 20 were sectioned off by 3 foot high cement walls with 6 beds to a section. Upon quick observation we noticed that about two thirds of the beds were filled with the acrid air overwhelmed our senses as sounds of people weeping filled our ears. Looking around there was not a single nurse or orderly to be found. Family members crowded around the various patients trying to talk in subdued tones. The hospitals in Malawi are a little bit different than home. Here they supply a bed. That´s it. Linens, blankets, food, drink, toilet paper water is all brought in from family and friends. The mosquito nets that hung above like cobwebs in the dusty house were filled with many holes. The patient next to Alice who was having a tube inserted into her mouth when we entered, her mouth being pried open with a spoon by her family member. The sound of her retching and choking mixed with the putrid smell was enough to turn our stomachs. Alice did not look good. Her white skin looked gray in contrast to her golden locks. Her arm was hooked up to an IV which was filled with quinine, the medication that treats malaria. We could only stay a few minutes because there were other people in the small space and we didn´t want to disturb. She ended up leaving the following day even though she was due to receive the third dose of medicine. This was because she would have had to stay an additional two nights because there is nobody around on Sundays to discharge patients. We just hope that we do not need the services of the local hospital.

Saturday, 13 August 2011


For those of you that got the chance to read a previous posting, we just wanted to let you all know that we do actually volunteeer more than just one day a week. Though Mondays are by far our favorite days here in Nkhata Bay, we do truly enjoy the rest of our week. Along with special needs school on Monday, on Fridays, we make our way back up to Liwell's. We have been helping his mother, Martha, out with teaching Liwell basic household chores, laundry, dishes, personal hygiene and general cleaning up are things that he desperately needs to learn. We have definitely seen some progress since our initial visit because now when we do our Friday visits, he will usually have his clothes in a bucket ready to be washed. Rachelle and David usually also join us so that they too can get into a routine. We really enjoy ourselves when we go into the village. Many of the village kids come running out from their humble abodes, screaming Hello as they gather around us as we walk the dusty pathway towards Liwells house. The life here is so simple. The women are usually gathered near the house doing various household chores while the men may gather under a nearby tree, talking or playing "bau" a favorite African board game. If the children are not in school, which many do not have an opportunity to go, then they too will follow on the gender lines with the boys running around playing games while the girls are helping with the various duties of the day. Nobody in any of the villages that we have visited have electricity or running water so it is very common to see the small girls carrying large buckets sometimes as big as themselves. They fill these buckets at the communal pump which sometimes is located several KM's away from their houses. It amazes both of us that they have to walk so far in each direction in order to fill just one bucket of water. Other girls and women will have huge bundles of branches balanced precariously on their heads which they take into town to sell for less than $1. Often these girls will go lengthy distances into the nearby forest to gather the wood so their daily journey is several KM's just to make one dollar. None of the houses that we have visited or passed have any type of indoor fireplace so obviously there is no indoor heating. Even though we are situated in the tropics, we are at elevation so the nights can get especially cold. The harsh reality hits home when we see these small girls sometimes no more than 6 years old, struggling to lift and carry these heavy bundles of branches. These girls along with their brothers should all be in school. AJ and Josie have implemented a policy that they will not buy any firewood from these children if they come around soliciting their wares during school hours. As far as schooling goes this is another area that we are trying to help. Tuesdays through Fridays Jeff has been running a tutoring program in the early afternoons. Helping children with math and English with the occasional science or geography lesson for good measure. The kids range from about 9-14 years old. For the most part, all of them are very eager to learn as Jeff has tried to make the lesson plans fun and varied so the kids won't be bored. He has had as many as a dozen students show up for any given class so it is usually only 5 or 6 that will attend on a consistant basis. Erika, meanwhile, has been helping with an afternoon kids club program. Butterfly, through a series of donation and funding from a local rotary club in England, has built a building where the children are able to come for a few hours every afternoon after school. This is an opportunity for them to escape their daily lives if only for a short while. Basically letting them just be kids and be able to play and not have to worry about doing chores. Erika along with the help of AJ and a few other volunteers over the past several weeks have organized games, coloring contests, drama projects and other assorted activities helping take the children's minds off the day to day struggles that they endure. Erika really enjoys all of the kids. Usually the group numbers upwards of a couple of dozen though they are disproportionally boys (the girls are usually stuck at home). It is quite amusing when we walk into town as Erika has become quite a celebrity with these young men. Inevitably one or more shout out her name as we pass by usually coming up to shake her hand and greet her. We have also been providing computer lessons for the community at large. Here at Butterfly, they have built a community resource center where anyone can come and use any of the several laptop computers that have been donated. They are able to check their email or do research all for free. There is also lots of material available for reading from sustainable gardening to infectious disease prevention to general knowledge and other various educational materials. Since most of the people have never ever seen leastwise used a computer, it is quite a challenge teaching them the basics of how to use these amazing machines. All of them are quite keen to learn. We start off just logging on and off and how to get acquainted with the mouse. Erika has concentrated her efforts on teaching both word and excel programs trying to get everyone to be able to produce a resume for themselves. Meanwhile, Jeff has been teaching people on the basics of the internet. It is quite funny how that part of our teaching has evolved over the past several weeks. At first it was just how to be able to access the web and to look up things on Google, people were fascinated by the wealth of information available at the push of a key stroke. Jeff eventually started opening email accounts for people and this led to several people asking about facebook. Now, it seems that Jeff spends most of his time training everyone on the intricacies of Facebook. This has turned into a nearly full time job as each day, more and more people approach Jeff wanting to set up their own account. Many of you may laugh at this but it actually is a very good thing here. Not only are we helping these impoverished people learn about computers and the internet but also we are helping build a social network where they are able to meet other people from the Nkhata Bay area and beyond. Luckily, Jeff has brought a camera with him so now while setting up all of these various Facebook accounts, he can immediately take a picture of these individuals so that they too can have a profile photo for all their friends to see. The smiles that come to their faces are priceless as they get to see themselves up on the computer screen. Since a digital camera is only a distant dream for everyone here they all are fascinated by the instant gratification that the digital world provides.Many have never, ever seen a photo of themselves so it is so cool! Before we left the U.S. we would have never thought in a million years that our miniscule contribution to the impoverished of this continent would be setting up Facebook pages

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

august 17

We are facing a bit of a dilemma. The plan all along was we were to stay here at Butterfly until around the middle of August. Our visa actually expires on the 13th which falls on a Saturday so in order to renew it, we would have to probably visit the local immigration on Thursday just to be on the safe side. Since the initial visa into Malawi is free, subsequent renewals are quite costly for the additional 30 day stay. Under normal circumstances that really would not matter since we have budgeted for visa expenses which can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of any trip abroad. Here in Malawi, things are moving away from normal. Though it received little, if any, press in either the UK or the USA, there was a major event back on July 20th. Huge protests broke out in the 3 major cities of Malawi. Blantyre, the largest, Lilongwe, the capital, and Mzuzu, which is only about 45km's from where we are at here in Nkhata Bay. People demonstrated against the current president. He was elected into office several years back on a platform of being a man of the people. Over his first term, he had actually implemented several policies that the general population liked including a huge fertilizer subsidy program that has helped many of the impoverished farmers around the country. It seemed that Malawi was heading in the right direction. He was in fact so popular that back in 2009 he was elected for a second term along with a parliament that gave his ruling party a super majority. That is when the real trouble began. Shortly after his re-election it was discovered that the president had been accumulating mass amounts of wealth including a huge farm outside of Lilongwe. This, despite the fact, that he was only receiving a fairly modest salary as president. Immediately, many of the NGO's that have been operating in Malawi began to question these improprieties. Many started realizing that some of the funds that were allocated as aid to this impoverished country had disappeared and actually ended up in his pockets. In late June the UK decided to pull it's high commission from Lilongwe and also put a stop to it's aid coming in to the country. This was followed shortly thereafter by the USA following suit and halting most but not all of their financial support. The effects of these actions have had a HUGE impact on the fledgling economy. Gas and diesel shortages abound throughout this tiny nation. We have talked to several people including a few travelers that have been forced to wait in lines up to 7 or 8 hours just to buy fuel. This, in turn, has led directly to a sharp increase in prices across the board. The effects of which are becoming more and more pronounced. Things finally came to a head back on July 20th as thousands of people took to the streets throughout the country. Demonstrations were wide spread and the grossly undermanned police force and army had an extremely difficult time controlling the masses. Several people were shot in various locations with the majority of the casualties happening just up the road in Mzuzu where 16 people were gunned down and scores more were hospitalized with gun shot wounds. Hundreds of businesses were looted, many having been burnt to the ground by the throngs of demonstrators. The mob mentality snow balled to incite the masses. People were angry and rightly so. Though the demonstration happened only on the 20th of July, shops and businesses were closed for several days afterward. We noticed even here in Nkhata Bay that many of the shops were closed and only about a third of the amount of vendors appeared on the streets. The government was successful in the meantime shutting down most if not all communications throughout the country including radio stations, newspapers, TV, internet and even closing the airport for a couple of days to prevent people from getting information. Since that time, things on the ground have begun to deteriorate even more. Petrol has become more and more scarce leading to many of the long distance buses and minivans to be canceled. The ones that are fortunate enough to be running sometimes become stranded in the middle of nowhere for the lack of fuel. This leads up to our dilemma. We really do want to stay here until around the 21st of August. We feel we are able to accomplish quite a bit and are really enjoying our time along this idyllic lakeside location. However, it seems that people and underground groups are planning for more mass demonstrations on the 17th of August. They are demanding that not only the president step down from office, but that a whole list of grievances be addressed. The president has been quoted in the newspapers that he is willing to make compromises but yet he has no intention on stepping down. This could be a major problem. People are angry with just cause. As the August 17th deadline approaches, daily life has become a bit more interesting. Personally we have noticed a larger police presence even here in tiny Nkhata Bay. We have also seen a sharp increase in prices such as basic staples including rice and vegetables. The shared taxis and minibuses have been forced to buy petrol on the black market. Daily scenes of gas siphoning are not uncommon. We have also noticed that far fewer vehicles are out on the roads and that the taxi cues are about half the number of what they were only a few short weeks ago. The pickups that we are dependent upon to get up to the small villages where we fetch our special needs kids, have even tried to charge us double the usual price but since all of the locals that have ridden with us protested we too have argued vehemently that we would only pay the normal 50 kwacha price. But as fuel becomes more scarce, we may have no alternative but to pay these inflated prices. Both of us have talked between ourselves and to others trying to get a feel for what may or may not happen. The overwhelming opinion is that Malawians are a very peaceful people. If anything does happen it will be an extreme minority and everyone has said that we have absolutely nothing to worry about. Neither one of us want to get stuck in Lilongwe or any other big city without an exit strategy. We really do not want to leave this beautiful spot prematurely because we feel we have so much more to give but we may not have a choice.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Seems hard to believe that we have been here at Butterfly for more than 7 weeks, time has literally flown by. We have fallen into a great groove! The philosophy at Butterfly is to contribute to this beautiful community of Nkhata Bay in ANY way possible. There is such a dearth of everything here. This is why when volunteers show up, be it for a few days or in our case a few months, they have the flexibility to help this diminutive village. Butterfly is obviously well known in Nkhata Bay and it's environs. They are involved in several diverse projects, everything from helping to staff the local kindergarten to planting sustainable gardens throughout the locality. There are so many things that we all take for granted back home that people here do not even have a clue exist. People lack basic skills of all types here. The one skill they do possess is the skill to survive no matter what it takes. Most if not all have an enormous desire to better themselves, to try and improve their necessitous plight. Butterfly is trying it's best to help in that area. For example, Josie has started a radio group. They are gathering, writing and producing a local news show in the local language. The news is read over the airwaves for all of Northern Malawi, the idea being that the group will learn how to hone their writing, reading, producing skills etc... With the possibility to make money in the numerous fields within radio. That is just ONE of the endless avenues yet to be opened here. Ourselves, we have found plenty of ways to keep busy. Starting with Monday which happens to be one of our favorite days. Mondays are the days that the special needs kids come to Butterfly for school. The group is absolutely amazing and each child is a true character. We have had so much fun spending all day Monday with these great children. We both have an overwhelming, new found respect for people who devote their careers and lives to this noble profession. We have a friend back home, Amy, who has been teaching special ed for a number of years now. I honestly don't know how she does this day in and day out, it takes a truly special person to dedicate their lives to such an overwhelming need.

Since George, our faithful interpreter, hasn't been well enough since his earlier episode (see earlier story), the two of us have taken it upon ourselves to gather the kids for the school day. This entails going up to the village and fetching them, then bringing them down to the meeting point along the far beach front where the boat is able to pick up the entire group and take them over to Butterfly Space. The village we have to go to is literally a 5 mile walk ALL up hill from Butterfly. We have made the walk a couple of times but lately have been a little lazy and have taken a ride in the back of one of the many pickups that ply this road which cuts about half the distance from our journey. We know we are responsible for walking the kids down the hill to the beach so we can all catch the small boat over and it allows us the opportunity to sleep in just a “little bit”! We head up to the house of one of the older boys in the group whose name is Liwell (pronounced Lye-well). His mother is an incredibly sweet and generous woman who greets us warmly upon each visit. Her English is excellent so we are not in need of an interpreter which makes dealing with Liwell a bit easier. We generally show up at Liwell's house right around 8am but usually Liwell is nowhere to be found. He knows that Mondays are school days but that doesn't seem to matter to Liwell. Liwell is usually out on a little “walk about”. It seems this is an usual practice for him and his mother has no control, part of this stems from the fact that Liwell is well over six feet tall and quite strong. Before attending school Liwell's mother, Martha, insists that he take a shower. She will not let him go without one. But for poor Liwell, getting him to the shower is an ordeal itself so generally we have to wait, and wait... She graciously serves us tea and biscuits while we all sit eagerly waiting for Liwell's return. Eventually he returns and we can hear him from inside the house as he is quite vociferous. Once he is securely in the house then the real fun begins. Among the many of Liwell's afflictions is ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. Once he does meander inside, Martha is constantly trying to coax her beloved son to go outside and take a shower (actually a bucket bath in a little bamboo cubicle outside the house). Liwell wants to do anything BUT get himself clean. He runs around the small 4 room house distracting himself in as many ways as he can possibly find. Meanwhile, Martha keeps telling him that we are there to take him to school and he needs to get in the shower so that he can be clean. This charade goes round and round for quite awhile. Around 9am, two of the other children, David and Rachelle, show up. They somehow instinctively know that Liwell won't be ready. Just the same they sit down in the modest living room and watch patiently as Martha tries to steer Liwell towards his shower. Eventually she does succeed, he actually showers, brushes his teeth and slowly, methodically, gets dressed. This happens all the while as he is talking to whom ever will listen to “lord knows what”. Finally, we are able to get him sorted, we collect the other two kids, say our goodbyes to Martha and march down the dusty track towards the main road. It is about a 10 minute walk to the main road and as we pass each and every house, not only are we greeted but so is Liwell as he seems to be a celebrity in his own right. People will shout Liwell's name and occasionally will return their greeting but usually not as he is in his own special world. On the way to the main road, we pick up one more girl, Chrissy. She is also quite the character. She is the type of person who CONSTANTLY needs attention. She is prone to grabbing things away from people and immediately crying when she can't get her way. This girl knows no boundaries. She too is extremely difficult to keep motivated as we slowly walk towards town. Along the way, she is constantly trying to beg for money from anyone she can. If she does succeed in securing a few kwacha she is off in another direction buying a small bag of peanuts or mandazi (Malawian doughnut). The two of us try to place ourselves both at the front and back of this small pack. In front is Liwell's domain since he takes long, gliding strides. In the back is where Chrissy seems to want to be as she stops EVERYWHERE trying to beg. Erika usually will take Liwell. It is quite an amusing sight watching the two of them going hand in hand, Liwell swinging his hands as Erika tries to keep her shoulder in tact. In the meantime, Jeff is trying to corral Chrissy keeping her from darting across the road where the sporadic cars zoom by at warp speed. Luckily for us both David and Rachelle walk down without any problems, both probably laughing inwardly as they watch us trying to keep the other two in line. It is about a 45 minute walk down the main road to the beach sight. Luckily the other kids, 5 or 6 are waiting as they are able to make it down on their own. The exception being Mauna, he has cerebral palsy and is unable to use his legs from the knee downwards. Luckily, his brother faithfully carries him on his back down to the meeting point. He has to walk down a series of sharp, winding turns from their small village high above the lake. Once we are all gathered, we are able to load onto the miniscule vessel for the short journey across the bay to the adjoining shore. The day with the kids goes by extremely fast as Alice's varied lesson plans always include several games, songs, a cooking lesson of some sort and many different hand/eye coordination activities. Lunch is always served usually around 12:30pm. This is probably the only decent rounded meal these kids will enjoy during the week. Before we realize it is time to go. We carefully herd the group back onto the boat for the return journey to the meeting point on the faraway beach. We give the four kids that we escorted in the morning some kwacha to pay for their return journey back up to the village. We find a motola (Pickup) where the four of them are able to squeeze in then we give the driver explicit instructions to take them to the junction where they can easily walk back to their little village. Since most of the drivers and touts recognize us by now, they understand that the kids need help and they are always very willing to oblige. Once we say our goodbyes and make sure that the four are safely on their way back home, we ourselves start our long walk home through the streets of Nkhata Bay. Since Monday marks the arrival of the weekly Ilaha Ferry, it also coincides with market day. The main street is packed with hundreds of vendors trying to traffic their wares. It is a protracted walk towards Butterfly as we tend to absorb the electric atmosphere and of course we end up buying a few, varied sundries ourselves. By the time we do make it back, both of us are exhausted trying to keep up with these special kids. Usually, we both collapse on the bed in silence reflecting on the amazing day past.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Two Tortugas

Taking it slow…One of the first things I learned about traveling (aside from the realization that people may speak English in the UK that doesn’t necessarily mean we from the USA have a clue what they are saying), is to take things at a leisurely pace. My first solo venture out of the states was to travel from one of America’s most picturesque cities, San Francisco, to London and the surrounding areas west of there. I spent about a week hanging about England trying to get my bearings before jumping on to the continent… Europe… From there it was a mad dash down towards the Greek Islands. I made it down to the islands in less than three weeks not only missing out on a ton of real estate in between but I went so fast that when I look back at old photos from that journey I have a very hard time recalling if the picture in question is in Munich, Brussels or Rome. I went through only big cities and much too quickly. Fortunately since that memorable journey I have learned albeit the hard way to SLOW down. I forget who it was that said “you can’t see it all” but how true that statement is. Even though the world is small it is quite massive just the same. Seeing various famous sights and landmarks around this wonderful globe is truly an amazing privilege. Being able to talk to local people, and even better, being fortunate enough to share a meal learning a little about their culture and to teach a bit about ours is priceless. The two of us have come to realize that having some flexibility in traveling is a great asset. Being able to change course in mid-stream. I once met a kid while I was hustling backpackers in Amsterdam many centuries ago.He had his one month Euro-rail pass, tucked inside the plastic pouch that they hand out to hold ones pass, he had written his whole one month itinerary. Every single train departure time, arrival times and train numbers. He was arriving in Amsterdam in the afternoon catching the early morning train the next day. For anybody that has been there and for those that have not, Amsterdam is worth a bit more than 15 hours. He was off to Where-ever, I remember asking him if he were to meet the girl of his dreams would have stayed. ..........Thank goodness he was able to go get his picture in front of the Heineken Brewery. This is not to say that we do not want to see famous landmarks and historic sights though, we do, but we have found over the years that being stationery in one place affords us the opportunity to get to know a place more intimately. We are able to befriend a few people. Whether it be street food vendors, t-shirt hawks, taxi or tuk tuk drivers or just someone from off the street, they all offer a little bit of local flare and more importantly knowledge to whichever place we happen to be. Sometimes after people have seen us a few times, they realize that we are just not whizzing through. Then they generally set aside the pretense of trying to make a sale and open up a small glimpse into their world. We have been truly blessed to be able to travel our fair share.Yet have only seen but a minute bit of this big blue sphere. In all that time we have learned that by not going too fast, we have been able to relax much more, take things as they present themselves, and enjoy ourselves. All without ever being held to a rigid itinerary. I am certain that we have missed many of the some more famous local landmarks or historic places in countries we have visited. However, if we were to have tried to see all that we could/should have, we would have spent most of our travel time on the various modes of transportation just going to and from the places, and not being able to stop and just enjoy the sights and sounds and most importantly tastes (current area notwithstanding) of the places we landed. There are choices we all have to make no doubt. We have both been fortunate to be able to take longer periods of time “off” to travel but even on our journeys that were shorter periods in duration we have tended to limit our scope of traveling to one or two areas being able to explore them in depth and discover little nooks and crannies well off the beaten path. Every single day seems to bring on a new adventure discovering fascinating places of interest maybe an obscure church or a locals only restaurant and café. I can not tell you how many times we have walked into a place and we were the only "tourists" any where in sight. It is like out of a movie sometimes as we enter and everything comes to a complete halt as everyone looks our way, mouths open in stunned silence. Sometimes we will just park ourselves at a sidewalk café or just on some random curb watching life pass by. To me these are some of the best travel moments unscripted and impromptu. The daily dramas that we have witnessed are indescribable. We may not understand a word that is spoken, however, we comprehend fully the context of the discussions. More often than not, a local will stop and engage us in conversation, sometimes in halting English, but just the same. Often this will lead to some sort of invitation this person’s village or home. When this first happened we were very skeptical needless to say. People in the US do not invite random strangers into their homes. If they did we would automatically wonder what the motive behind the invitation was. Here in Malawi like many other places we have visited many people just want to have contact with Westerners to find out a little bit about far away places that they will probably never, ever have the opportunity to visit. It is absolutely gripping. We find ourselves constantly [pinching ourselves at how amazing this world can be. We have learned so much about other lands, other cultures but most importantly about ourselves. The best thing is that we still have so much more to absorb......

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Malaria and other fun facts

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the entire world. Actually ranking in the bottom 10 of all countries. While it is true that most African countries are poverty stricken, Malawi is the poorest. With a population of over 13 million people stuffed into a landmass smaller than the state of Pennsylvania, it is not only poor but crowded as well. Half the population is under the age of 15, the per capita income for over 75% of the people is around $250 a year. Over 15% of the country is infected with HIV/Aids. The life expectancy is only 43 years! Though HIV/Aids is a prominent killer reeking havoc on nearly every single family as we have come across so many children who are being raised by an aunt or grandparent because both parents have passed away. The government is trying to do their absolute best but they seem to be losing the battle. Nearby Zambia actually has a program where if men go in to get circumcised they get $10 worth of free airtime for their cell phones. Circumcision seems to be quite a help to the spread of infection. But HIV/Aids is only one part of why the life expectancy is so low. The other major killer in Africa and other tropical parts of the world is Malaria. As a matter of fact, it is the number one health issue that we as travellers face on our journeys. There are a number of precautions that we are able to take to reduce our exposure none of which in and of themselves is 100% effective. Malaria is a parasite carried by mosquitoes mainly the female anopheles variety. So obviously the key to not getting malaria is to not get bit. We are here in Southern Africa during their “winter” so overall the amount of insects are low compared to other times of the year. The mosquitoes that carry malaria generally are active between dusk until dawn so every day around 4:30-5:00 we diligently put on long sleeved shirts and long pants and thoroughly spray any exposed areas with heavy duty deet or something similar. We took the preventative measure of spraying ALL of our outer layers of clothing with a chemical called premethrin. Along with spraying a double dose of premethrin on our mosquito net that we religiously bring with us when travelling in malaria infested areas. Since we are going to be travelling for nearly 5 months here in Africa, both of our doctors along with a travel consultant doctor recommended that we do not take any type of malaria propolactic medication due to the long term effects on the kidney and liver that can be devastating. People that live in malaria infested regions have a different regimen that they follow. Usually they are not able to afford either repellent or more importantly mosquito nets to sleep under, most if not all usually contract malaria at a very young age. Due to repeated exposure to malaria while growing up, by adulthood the ones that HAVE survived have usually built up some type of immunity and only develop mild cases of malaria. Since most westerners are never exposed to the parasite while growing up, the symptoms can be much more severe. The onset of symptoms can take up to 3 months after getting bit. Usually presenting themselves as a mild case of the flu, slight fever, aching bones, chills, general malaise. The symptoms usually are more severe at night time and almost non-existent during the day. If not treated immediately the symptoms can progress rapidly especially if it is the strain called falciparum “which is most prevalent” here in Southern Africa. Within 24 hours of initial onset of symptoms a person can become unconscious eventually falling into a coma followed by a certain death. Even if a patient is able to get immediate ICU care there is more than a 10% chance they will still die. The major problem here in Malawi besides the fact that most hospitals and clinics are severely under funded, poorly maintained with a lack of qualified medical professionals. The under qualified staff tend to diagnose many different ailments that they are presented as malaria for which they prescribe quinine which this drug is quite effective at subduing the malaria parasite (it can never be killed lying dormant in ones body) but as they prescribe it for many ailments it is not equally effective for obvious reasons. We have heard of a person that got bit by a snake and fortunately the snake was not poisonous as they were prescribed quinine and not the usual anti venom that we in the West would receive. Fortunately for the patient the snake was not poisonous allowing this person to live. But many other diseases and infections go untreated because of this lack of proper diagnosis. Needless to say, both of us are doing our absolute best to avoid getting sick, injured, or bit by mosquitoes.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Last Four Days!

I am not sure if it was the full moon or the moon on the following night. It appeared over the lake shortly after the sun had made its daily descent. At first glance it seemed like a light from a large boat with a strong beam streaking across the lake, except that the one large craft on the lake (The Ilala ferry) was not due for several days. No other boats are present along the tranquil lake except for the small serene canoes. A bright red light shone across the dark waters like a traffic signal reflects upon rain slick streets. We have never seen a moon so big and red like the colour of a majestic sunset only the sun had long ago disappeared. We both stared in amazement as this big crimson globe cast an ever larger reflection over the rippling black lake, lighting up the sky in an eerie magenta as it made its slow climb toward the midnight sky. The moon stayed this deep red colour for several hours even as it reached the top of the sky. Magical....
The next morning was when all the fun began. A local character named "Happy Coconut", who for the past several weeks seemed like a jovial fun loving character who we had crossed paths with on an almost daily basis here and around town. But on this particular morning he had somehow made his way down to the reception area of Butterfly with about 6 or 7 Malawian policemen in rapid pursuit. The police were able to finally tackle "Happy" in nothing but his birthday suit. They immediately tried to cover his naked body and escorted him off to jail. The reason the police were after him in the first place was that he had allegedly hit one of the shop owners in town. It is our understanding that this is not the first incident with "Happy coconut" and the local authorities. He has had several "outbreaks" over the past several months but the problem is that he is sick and does have a violent temper when not medicated. Unfortunately the nearest hospital equipped to help him is in Mzuzu some 45km away. Apparently Happy Coconut has spent a number of visits at the Mzuzu mental hospital. It has been rumoured that in his own charming way he has persuaded the doctors and nurses that if fact he is alright and does not spend more than a night or two inside. Sure enough the very next night as Jeff was walking back from filling his water bottle a more agitated "Happy Coconut" appeared suddenly begging for a cigarette. Jeff made the mistake in engaging him, telling him that he did not smoke and that smoking was a bad habit and a scrooge to try and quit. This last comment seemed to set "Happy" off. Happy became very upset yelling that the whole smoking issue was a European/American plan to keep the black man down. Jeff was a bit taken  back as Happy moved closer in a menacing fashion, mind you Happy is no slouch standing over 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and probably not an ounce of body fat. Jeff tried to step back a few steps as Happy continued his explicative filled rant. In his calmest voice Jeff told Happy that while he did not agree with what Happy was spewing he could empathize. Jeff was finally able to break free and return to his bungalow and Happy walked off still shouting obscenties.When we went down to the dining area, sure enough there sat "Happy" with a scowl on his face and a small knife in his hand. He seemed to be randomly shouting at anyone who happened to look his way and continued ranting if anyone answered his obscure comments. Finally a night-watchman was able to coax happy away from the knife and got him to leave the premises. Though not quietly.
     The very next night while we sat at the communal table we were visited by George the gentleman who has done the translating for us during the special needs group. We both think the world of this man and he had been doing a great job not only translating for us and the kids but he was charged with rounding up the kids from their various villages which in itself is quite a task, that takes several hours each time. Monday at special needs he was acting quite strange, several times refusing to translate for us. At one point Alice had finally had enough with him when he had said that it was not necessary to translate that all the kids understood english.When George approached that night he had a strange blank look on his face. He did not immediately respond to our questions and eventually got up and walked toward the back of the compound without saying a word. The next morning while we were in town running a few errands George had reappeared back at Butterfly this time he was not as calm. While sitting at the community table in front of newly arrived guests he suddenly started to take his shoes off and throw them toward the lakeshore. Alice who happened to be walking by at the time tried to calm George down but to no avail, she knew what he was about to do next. Sure enough George started to take all of his clothes off and began running around stark naked playing with his privates in front of the now gathering crowd. Alice and Opahuel were able to coax him to one of the communal toilets and were able to lock him in there with his pile of clothes. They patiently waited as he slowly put his clothes back on, before they reluctantly let him back outside.  When we finally returned from town we dropped our groceries in our bungalow and we could hear what sounded like the blaring of talk radio.  It continued for quite a while so Jeff went down to the bar to ask Kwame if he could turn the radio down a bit.  When Jeff arrived at the bar he found George staring at the wall screaming in animated fashion various obscenities both in English and Tonga.  George did not respond as Jeff repeatedly called his name and he finally slowed his ranting down and Jeff was able to say hello but that was about it.  Unfortunately, mental health in Western countries gets pushed aside and here in Africa it is basically non-existent, there really is no answer.  George was finally escorted out by the police some 3 hours after the staff had called 911 even though the police station is only about a 12 minute walk away from butterfly space.  The very next day, something even more frightening happened.  As Erika was returning from her umpteenth visit to the loo, out of the corner of her eye she saw a man start to stumble and then fall down a 20 foot embankment hitting several trees on his descent. At first she thought that maybe the guy was just drunk (not uncommon) but then it dawned on her that the look of panic the guy had was not normal. She rushed down with several others to the landing spot and saw immediately the guy was convulsing from seizures. As the guy lay face down amongst the rocks people quickly were able to find a mattress and blanket to try and make the guy comfortable. Back at home when something like this happens we would immediately be on the phone calling 911 waiting the arrival of the ambulance. Here in Malawian there really are not emergency responders. (Remember the police that took 3 hours to show up?) We have seen a vehicle that roams about town looking much like an ambulance. It has ambulance stencilled on its side and is equipped with a siren and red light even. We were told that even though this car looks like it is ambulance it is used more as a transport for the hierarchy of the hospital getting them to and from work as opposed to actually functioning as transport for seriously sick or injured people. Only in Africa......while we were waiting by this poor boys side a feeling of utter helplessness overcame both of us. There was absolutely nothing we could do as suddenly the boy was overcome by yet another seizure, shaking violently and eventually vomiting a pool by his side. After this last seizure that seemed to last more than 15 minutes we both decided that this poor lad needed to get to the hospital somehow. We finally found someone who actually had credits on their phone and rang up a taxi. The taxi took over 1/2 hour to make the short distance and eventually we were able to load the guy into the car and before leaving the driver demanded the full fare (1000 kwacha) about $7.00 which does not seem like much but is more than a full weeks wages for most Malawians. The harsh reality is that even though it took more than 3 hours for us to get him to the hospital we knew that he would probably not get very good medical care...........

Prologue:    We found out that the gentleman did make it to the hospital and they were able to keep him overnight. They gave him some sort of medicine and also diagnosed the boy with Malaria which they concluded may have set off his seizures. The problem here in Southern Africa is that most things are diagnosed as Malaria no matter the actual affliction but that is another story........