Saturday, December 19, 2009

Africa gets under your skin

Well considering that this time last year I was actually in Kalene and it's nearly a year since I returned you may wonder why I'm still writing! But I've just printed out my blog posts to incorporate into an old-fashioned photo album - you know, one that you actually pick up - and realised that I didn't ever write my last post. Now of course I've forgotten a good deal but a few things stand out.

*walking across the bridge into Zimbabwe to see the rest of the Falls. A guided tour was prohibitive so we bought temporary visas to get into Zim and managed to talk our way back into Zam a few hours later without having to pay again! Most of the Falls are on the Zim side and there used to be a thriving tourist industry there whilst Zam languished. Now of course the tables are reversed and whilst the Falls were as impressive as ever the enduring image I have of that day is the Zimbabwean who was stopped at the border and made to leave his bag of maize behind because he had already taken his quota of Zambian subsidised maize through that month. Although how the border guard could tell from the scruffy piece of paper that was his passport/visa was beyond me. So he returned to his family with nothing and these people live near the border so at least have the chance to find cheaper food from time to time - those in the cities and interior are not so "lucky". It was sobering in the extreme.

*at the other end of the scale and yes I appreciate my good fortune...having fun getting round Lusaka by myself for a day once Fiona had gone back to Kalene. I had 2 or 3 places I wanted to find including a material shop and a silversmith. I taxied to a shopping centre I'd been to before first to go to the bank etc then set out to walk into the city centre. It really wasn't that far and I'd been driven in a couple of times so had a good idea where i was going but the heat won and a somewhat concerned man directed me to the local "bus" stop. This was one of those situations where you're sure you've got the last seat in the minivan but no they squeeze in at least 6 more people!! Being unable to see out meant that after a while I completely lost my sense of direction (no smart comments please!)and when we reached the terminal, after detouring to a petrol station where for some bizarre reason we transferred to another van rather than just fill up, I had no idea where I was at all. I couldn't see one familiar landmark and moreover not one other white face!! However, you only have to ask and I was soon on my way again, passing the most wonderful street markets full of delicious fresh food that I wanted to take back to the guest house....Anyway the material shop was amazing - I managed to restrict myself to a few pieces and when the charming assistant heard how I managed to find the place and that I intended taxi-ing to the silversmith, insisted on ordering me one because, he said "If you do, you'll be ripped off!" He had quite an animated conversation with the driver when it arrived and I have no doubt that it would have cost me a great deal more without his intervention.

However between us there was something definitely lost in translation because i was taken to a brake and clutch specialist that one out!! When we did eventually arrive at the silversmith (a friend of the Poidevins) I had great pleasure in choosing for myself a pair of earrings of Zambian silver that I wear often.

*They say Africa gets under your skin and it certainly did me - I hope to return someday and even if I don't my trip will remain one of the highlights of my life. I could, however have done without the piece of Africa that did, literally, get under my skin - a dreaded chigger flea came home with me - well at least its offspring did and caused great excitement down at the surgery (it had been a quiet day...)A few shots and much curettage later and it was just me - returned from Africa, older, happier and much wiser about many things - including the need to wear covered shoes!!

Over and out :-)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

interesting facts and gruesome tales

Now before confusion sets in I AM back in NZ - have been for nearly 3 weeks and I really should have finished this off before i went back to work but...I didn't.

*an elephant can be either right or left tusked - there is a marked difference in size the older an animal gets. The first elephant we saw when on the Chobe trip was living by himself at the edge of the river where he could pull up easy marshy stuff that didn't require too much tusk power. Chibby said he didn't expect to see him for much longer.

*if the rains are tardy in arriving impalas can prolong their pregnancies by up to 3 weeks which explains why there is never any shortage of impalas on a game drive!

*one type of weaver bird always builds its nest on the leeward side of a certain tree (bit short on specifics here) which then acts as a directional marker for those with a tendency to wander about in the bush for one reason or another (really should have written this up whilst it was a tad fresher in my mind!)

*in Baboon World, the females organise themselves on matrilineal lines and just get on with it whilst the males use fear and fisticuffs. Then if something gets up The Big Baboon's nose he whacks the next in line who passes it on to No 3 who seeks out No 4 and so on and so forth. At any given time there are a number of Lesser Baboons wandering around with boxed ears and absolutely no idea what it is they've apparently done this time!

*a young honeymooning French couple were sitting by the Chobe River. He was fishing and she was gazing at his tanned knees (I actually made that bit up) when a 6 metre crocodile exploded out of the water and left a young French widow sitting by the Chobe River. It certainly made us take the Beware of Crocodiles signs around our accommodation very seriously!

*a ranger was asleep out in the bush, in his tent, which was surrounded by an electric fence. A python came calling, having slithered under the fence, and as the tent didn't have a built-in floor, soon made short work of the ranger. No-one would have known why the ranger was no longer reporting for duty EXCEPT that the python attempted to slither back under the fence.....


Tuesday, January 13, 2009


At last we've been able to trade the numerous sightings of logodiles, rockapotami and warthills for the real thing. (Still seeing treeaffes though and I think big cats are off the list) As mentioned in the last post during a walking safari and a sunset cruise we saw quite a lot of different species. The walking safari was particularly good - we left at 7.30am and walked for 3 hours with one stop where our guide produced chilled homemade lemonade and home baking! It was surreal, sitting on a log in the middle of the bush with an eclectic group of people, a very knowledgeable guide with amazing dreads and the habit of punctuating his sentences with uh-huh (in a very "like-like" manner ha ha)and an armed guard who compromised his dignity somewhat at one stage by tripping over and jamming his rifle into a mud pool. We searched in vain for giraffes but they weren't obliging and we did see plenty of other animals, birds and insects - many more of the latter 2 than if we'd been driving.

The main animal on show on the sunset cruise was the hippo and only in the water and mainly only eyes, ears and nostrils on show - as the guide put it, they were all on the top level! One did yawn obligingly to show off his fearsome teeth.

On Sun 11 we went on a day trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana. It began early with us (just us!) being picked up in a 12 seater minivan with a driver and a guide and driving for approx an hour to a point where 2 rivers (Zambezi and Chobe) and 4 countries (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia) meet. There were many trucks lined up waiting to cross, one at a time, on the ferry. I asked if many had to stay overnight - more like up to 2 weeks was the reply! Fortunately there were various ferries and very soon a chap in a flat-bottomed boat that would take maybe 15 people zoomed up and took - yep - just us - to Botswana. There we were handed over again to a worried looking chap who was asleep in his safari vehicle. "Are there any others coming?" we asked but no - just us... A slow 15 min trip took us to Chobe Lodge, a rather gorgeous edifice, on the Chobe bank. Our boat would be ready soon we were assured but 30 mins later we were still sitting soaking up the atmosphere, whilst the atmosphere was being very soaked by a massive downpour. Eventually Chibby (that can't possibly have been his name but it's certainly what it sounded like)reappeared looking even more worried because it was far too wet to take a small boat and he was organising a bigger one. Okaaaaay we said, thinking just how big?? Our worst fears were realised when a sunset cruise type boat pulled up to the jetty and just us reluctantly got on. The carbon footprint was getting bigger by the minute.

A forlorn looking table was set with tea, coffee and biscuits but we hadn't taken advantage of it when Chibby came back, this time looking like he was going to cry. The boatmen were on strike apparently and he was trying to get hold of head office and he would try to organise something for "you guys" but in the meantime we would have to wait in the lodge. We reassured him that it wasn't his fault and were nearly back up the steps when a replacement came bounding down them and back on again we went. By this time it had stopped raining but our suggestion that we take the small boat was met with "oh no I don't know who owns it" Chibby was way more in need of coffee than us - luckily there were 3 cups!

Once underway he stopped looking worried and proved to be a very knowledgeable man. I can quite see how people can become mad keen birders - the bird life here is astonishing and even though we've only seen about 25 of the 450 species in the Falls area (and the 730 in Zambia)it's been quite addictive. It was particularly pleasing to see a couple of Fish Eagles as it's Zambia's national bird and whilst nowhere as elusive as the kiwi it's still not your everyday occurence. But the hippo and the elephants were the highlights and here the cloudy weather and the big boat proved very useful. Because of the former the hippos were out of the water and feeding along the river's edge and the latter meant that we were able to get a lot closer than in a small boat (but still far enough away not to disturb them) A small boat load that obviously was able to find a operator was nearby and came very close to being upset by a submerged hippo who was further out than normal. After that it scuttled along in our wake, seeking protection! The hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa - on land also as they often travel vast distances at night looking for fodder and woe betide if you're in their way the next morning whilst on their way back to the river. Incidentally, if you are being chased by a hippo try to find a small log to jump over as their short legs make them unsuited for such obstacles and hopefully by the time they've struggled over, or gone round, you'll be safely out of reach!!

We saw elephants from the boat and also crocodiles lazing on the bank plus kudu, lechwe and the ever present impala and after a sumptuous lunch at the Lodge we went in the safari vehicle further into the Park. There was a herd of elephants on the road outside the Park - they often appear in town! Highlights in the Park included warthogs that didn't run away, a leopard tortiose (compensation for not seeing an actual leopard) and lots of elephants, including babies. As we were leaving a couple charged us, probably because they were on both sides of the road so we drove right in the middle of them. A young one, maybe about 2yrs, followed his big brothers' example - he was very cute!

The game drive was a little rushed because of all the delays in the morning but still very worthwhile and after returning across to Zambia we were really pleased to see that our van was filled up with a group of young Americans, some of them Peace Corps members, who were going to Livingstone. Chatting with them rounded off a superb day.

We retrieved our packs from the Waterfront and, as previously arranged, booked into the Zambezi Sun for 3 nights - they don't have many people turn up with packs here but at least they have the good grace not to look surprised every time they realise we're still here!! Apart from the usual baboons and vervet monkeys they also have zebras and giraffes in the grounds as the hotel is in Mosi-Oa-Tunya Park (That means the Smoke that Thunders and is the local name for the Falls).This morning the zebra were grazing outside our building but the giraffes remain elusive.

I'm now back in Lusaka - Fi went back to Kalene this morning and I leave for home tomorrow. On our last morning we caught a glimpse of the giraffes so left well satisfied.

Still awake? :-)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Victoria Falls,,,

...are amazing! We arrived here yesterday (6 Jan) from Lusaka after 2 nights in the Flight Service guesthouse there. The flight from Kalene was pretty smooth until the last 45 mins - I was ok but poor Fi suffered again. Flying for all those hours over what is actually a very small part of the African plains, let alone Africa, makes the Canterbury plains seem like a small backyard!

Our bus journey from Lusaka to Livingstone was in a different league from the previous experience. We met up with charlie again at the guesthouse - on his way back from Harare - and he organised us onto a business class bus - no chooks, nobody sitting down the aisle, no breakdowns and we started the journey with a prayer! Initially that was a tad worrying but no - it's standard practice. The conductor asked for a volunteer to pray but nobody stepped up so the relief driver obliged. Nobody heeded the second part of "Conveniences on board include a toilet at the rear. The toilet is not to be used" either unfortunately!! But the occasional aroma from there and the 20km of rough detour just before Livingstone were nothing!

It's now Sat 10 and we're about to spend our last night in our tent. It hasn't rained for 2 days which makes things very hot but it's nice to have a dry tent! It was a trifle damp earlier. We are going to Botswana for the day tomorrow and then back to a nice hotel for 3 nights. It was going to be a 7/1 split but the ratio seems to have shifted! They can't quite work us out here - I don't think people stay more than 2 nights. Every time we come back from an excursion someone, usually the lady with the hideous wig (a fashion statement), says 'You back again?' Well duh yeah - stuff's still here and we haven't paid or anything.... But the young man who puts the flaps down if it rains when we're out and brings in our washing before dusk and putzi flies is delightful!

On Thu we rafted the Zambezi - well some of it!! It was amazing - really exhilarating and so much fun. The guides were hilarious - especially when telling us what to do if our "laft fripped"!! Our laft only almost fripped once - much to Fi's disappointment but the almost flip was enough to lose one of our members overboard. (We got him back)The other rafts went over frequently and we were involved in a couple of rescues. One trio parted company with their raft, went down a set of 3 rapids under their own steam and were a trifle stressed when we picked them up. "Schwim! Ve are schwimming - vot do you sink ve are doink? Haffing a party???"

Yesterday we went into Livingstone to try and book a bus ticket back for 14/1 but oh no it can only be done the day before travel. Grrr. We went to the Museum which was very good but the combination of not enough sleep the night before (for me - SO hot)and the heat meant that all i wanted to do was lie down on the observation bench in a gallery and sleep. When in the bathroom dunking my face in tepid water the solution came to me and I subsequently enjoyed the Museum whilst participating in a private wet t-shirt competition! It worked a treat and no it wasn't see-through :-)By the time we'd done a few messages, stopped for numerous cold drinks, fought off the attentions of many taxi drivers and walked quite a long way we were melting into the ground and I was ready for another competition!

There is so much more i could write about but this post is long enough already. Suffice to say that this am we went on an early morning 3hr walking safari and this evening a sunset cruise and between the 2 have seen, amongst other things, warthogs, crocs, hippos, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest, heaps of birds including a vulture and a hornbill (Zazu!)many baboons (but not the Big one Andrew!) dung beetles doing what dung beetles do best, a velvet mite (looks and feels like red velvet)and more impala than you can shake a stick at. The baboons, warthogs and crocodiles aren't enough to keep the numbers down so they are thinking of introducing cheetahs to the Park. Someone asked 'Will you still have walking safaris?' 'Oh yes,' replied the guide thoughtfully, ' but we will rename them running safaris' ;-) Incidentally we had a fully armed escort with us.

That'll do.


Saturday, January 3, 2009

Things I do and don’t and will and won’t miss….

I do miss
• The rest of my family and other animals (with apologies to Gerald Durrell)
• Fresh dairy, especially cheese. Had some rubber stuff when first here but nowt since
• Abundant veges, especially leafy greens
• A decent sharp knife!
• Comfortable chairs
* The belt that keeps my shorts up!

I don’t miss
• Stress
• Junk mail
• NCX (sorry SJ!)

I won’t miss
• The ‘shocking’ kettle
• Mossie nets
• Ironing towels after forgetting to bring them in before dusk (refer earlier post)
• The leaky iron
• The heat – and yes I know this isn’t the hot season!
• Living in a goldfish bowl :-(

I will miss
• Mangoes, mangoes, mangoes – also fresh pineapple and monster avocadoes
• The people I’ve met here – most of them! :-)
• Walking up Kalene Hill
• Spectacular thunder and lightning – and the way the rain cools things down…for a bit….sort of :-)
• The greater reliance on self and on having to ‘make do’ – a bit tedious at times but ultimately good for the soul
• The whole experience of doing something totally ‘outside the square’

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year - may it be a good one!!

Visit to Hillwood

Hillwood Farm is owned and operated by a branch of the Fisher family, Walter Fisher being the missionary doctor who founded Kalene Mission Hospital in the late 1800s. The Fisher family story is well documented and makes fascinating reading. The journey here seemed long and somewhat tedious – in the early days they trekked 1500 miles to the Angolan coast to catch a boat for home!

Hillwood has supplied the Mission with meat and dairy produce since the early 20’s when Walter and Anna’s second son ffolliott (yep that was his name and no it doesn’t have a capital f!) returned home from the war and started farming. His son Paul, a courtly old gentleman, still has a reasonably active part in the governance but the day to day running is now in the hands of Paul’s son Pete and his wife Lynne, helped by their 2 sons when home from school/uni. It’s quite a dynasty! Pete and Lynne sent out a general invitation to the Mission for games and afternoon tea last Sun. Fi, Nikki and I went with the Reeds and eventually there were 22 of us, including Fisher cousins from ‘next door’ for soccer, volleyball in the pool and a sumptuous afternoon tea on the terrace.

That would have been a great afternoon just by itself but was topped by a private game drive! Nchila Game reserve forms part of the farm and although it was closed for the season to the hoi-polloi the animals hadn’t left! Pete took a carload of us on what was supposed to be a quick 30min drive but was more like 1’30” – he is such an enthusiast! They don’t have any large mammals but we saw about 9 different species of antelope/deer including wildebeest, oribi and the rare sitatunga, a couple of warthogs and some vervet monkeys. About the only animals that didn’t oblige were the zebras. Unfortunately I only have my little camera with me so have a lot of shots of grass with brown or black blobs in the distance! We also saw the bushcamp – closed also but very tempting with individual chalets, gourmet meals in the chota, spa under the stars by the animal feeding station, etc. (I guess Fynn could always have a bone out on the grass when we’re in the spa at Iona!!)

All in all it was a fascinating afternoon and the Reeds didn’t seem to mind not getting home til 8pm with 4 pretty tired children. When we got back to the house after the game drive they were all ensconced in front of a video and a fire!! It was raining but I still haven’t acclimatized that’s for sure.

We only have 3 more days before Fi and I fly down to Lusaka to begin our holiday. I’m ready to go – I’ll finish the nursing manual that I’ve been proofing and reformatting today and am still working with Kirrilee in preparation for her starting school next week but if I was to be here any longer I’d need a bit more structure. Fi and I had a long talk yesterday to a young teacher who wants to start a nursery school for the hospital staff kids and hopefully long-term patients. He hopes to get underway next week and it would have been good to have been involved in that but never mind. It’s frustrating not having any transport – the community does get a bit claustrophobic – but I came on the understanding that I would just fit in and it’s been fine. I just don’t quite fit the long-skirted spinster model – tee hee! ;-)

Last night we toasted marshmallows over a bonfire with the Reeds, and various other mission folk. It was very pleasant but as today it’s just an ordinary day no-one stayed up to see 09 in! Fi and Nikki are at work and I’d really better get going too…..

Happy New Year one and all :-)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Day(s)


…was certainly different. On Christmas Eve Fi, Nikki, Justin, George and I went over to the Flight House to play crazy games and eat Christmas goodies with Bruce the Pilot and Mrs Bruce (who is actually called Marilyn and is a real sweetie). It was interesting getting to know a bit more about everyone’s very different backgrounds. On Christmas Day Fi and Nikki were working although Fi hoped to get away about 10 for a while and she and I were planning to go to some of the 9-12am church service! However things were really busy and she finally got back about 11.30 which was too late, even by Brown standards  I would have gone by myself quite happily but had no house key and you don’t leave your house unlocked, especially not when it has all the Christmas stockings in it!

Instead I went back to the hospital with Fi and entertained some of the boys on men’s ward (children’s only caters up to 6yrs) making origami birds and boxes etc and supervising the colouring-in activities (ie trying to ensure equitable distribution of colour pencils etc etc!). There are some very sad cases in there but also an incredible amount of optimism and cheerfulness.

Fi, Nikki, Justin, George and I were invited to Alice the hospital administrator’s for dinner – Fi was almost too late and the guys didn’t make it at all as the 2nd set of twins for the day decided they had priority! They were undiagnosed too so it was all on. Unfortunately the first ones who arrived earlier on were only 24 weeks and didn’t live but the later ones were healthy. After dinner we all were back on deck to hand out Christmas presents and fruit to the patients. I was on women’s ward first which was humbling to say the least, then maternity. There were 16 patients and at first I could only see the mothers. There are no cots but the brightly coloured bundles on the beds contain tiny wee scraps of humanity if you look closely enough! The mother who had lost the twins was in a separate room and received a package of pampering things just for her.

The rest of the day was very quiet – I think we had chicken noodle soup out of a packet for supper! Not very Christmassy at all but that day was really for the patients and Boxing Day was for the mission staff. We invited J and G for pancakes, bacon and mangoes (had run out of bananas!) but once again they couldn’t make it – an emergency C-section this time! However all 21 of us got to the dinner which was held under a big chota (shelter) in the Poidevin’s orchard (the pilot) Everyone contributed and as always with this type of meal there was far too much food and it was all delicious! Our salads caused a bit of comment from the Canadians…strange people!! There was the obligatory rainstorm while we were still out in the orchard and a humdinger of a thunderstorm when Fi and I were helping with the dishes back at the Poidevin’s. There was nothing for it but to curl up in big armchairs with mugs of tea and sit it out 

We finally got home about 5.30 only to turn around an hour later and go to the Reed’s for dessert and presents. They have 4 young children, one of whom I’m tutoring. We had had the Christmas bags in our house for a few days – chosen in part because we have so little furniture there’s plenty of floor space!! People had been calling in all week to add their contributions to each bag so everyone had a range of gifts. It was a really nice idea and whilst the emphasis was on the children, the adults, including the short termers, certainly weren’t forgotten. The final act for Christmas in Zambia was going back to the Reed’s for midday dinner on Sat to eat leftovers!!

It’s now Mon am and it’s raining steadily as it has been most of the night. Yesterday we had a trip to Hillwood Farm, owned by the gt-grandson of the people who founded Kalene Mission in the 1880’s. It was an absolutely fascinating afternoon….but that’s another entry 