Thursday, August 21, 2008

Zambia in the Wild

Sunday 17th August

Having just returned from an amazing adventure it is difficult to think back to last Thursday!

As I have stated before life here is full of contrasts taking you from one extreme to another. It is not a grey world – life here is full of colour and powerful images – sometimes both beautiful and tragic. Like the group of ladies walking so elegantly with large plastic water containers balanced on their heads.

On Thursday I decided to spend some time outside the hospital visiting Charles to discuss his project. I hope to get time to look through his accounts and see just where the money is spent and where income is being generated. I also want to work with him to look at the vulnerabilities of his project and see if he can see any way of mitigating against some of the tragedies to hit the project in recent years. It was valuable time spent developing our relationship and exploring how we can work together to bring his dream to fruition.

Friday lunchtime I went again into samosa production and delivered the promised snack to the 'Maluba Team' who were on site busy plastering a classroom wall. They seem to be working well with the local men and the building is taking shape – one gable end is nearly complete.

I have another candidate for the Stores Database. I was accosted by the Procurement Officer of the School of Nursing and Midwifery who had spotted the database at Stores and wanted a copy. There are a few things to do to ensure that my previous work is doing exactly what is required which will occupy a bit of my time (and my rusty brain!)

So what about yesterday's adventure. During the week Luke asked me if I wanted to join him and a couple of medical students on a trip to Lochinvar. At first I wondered whether I just needed a rest on Saturday – but eventually succumbed! In 2006 I went to Lochinvar with Dilys. It was just after the death of my friend Bentoe and Luke's uncle had been injured in the accident. We invited Luke and he was invaluable helping to get us out of the sand when the pick-up got stuck. In 2004 I also drove to Lochinvar – that time I was accompanied by Emily Physiotherapist working at the hospital. On that occasion I wasn't very well and slept for two hours in the back seat of the pick-up.

So we set out at about 7hrs (only an hour later than scheduled!) in the hospital Landcruiser with Jasper at the wheel. The two medical students are studying at Southampton University and we were also joined by Thresa - a medical licentiate spending a year at Monze Mission Hospital. Katy – one of the students – wasn't feeling too good so the bouncing over very rough roads, on the way to the park, wasn't exactly what she wanted. We eventually passed through the entrance to the park, eventually gave up on getting a guide and made our own way to the hot springs, drum rocks and the baobab. The hot springs are very hot! i.e. too hot to leave a finger in for more than a second or so – the surrounding area has very rich lush tropical vegetation – a real oasis at this time of year. The drum rocks are easy to miss and only because I had been there before did faint recognition take place. The name comes from the fact that if you hit one of the rocks it makes a sound a bit like a drum – these rocks are obviously more evidence of some local volcanic activity. Baobab trees are quite common in Zambia. They look as if they have grown upside down with the roots coming out of the top instead of the bottom of the trunk. This particular Baobab has a huge girth – I am sure that 10 people would get no where near hugging it! Another feature is that the trunk is hollow so our complete party of six could fit within it.

Having had an interesting and gentle introduction to Lochinvar we made our way to the Lagoon viewing troops of monkeys and getting fleeting glimpses of KafueLechwe (an indigenous antelope) en-route. A drive by the lagoon brought us close to a variety of water loving birds. The huge Maribou Stork and many Egrets walked at the waters edge and in the distance Lechwe grazed and paddled in the shallows. We passed a pair of beautiful African Fish Eagles who sat undisturbed on the branches of a tree close by as we passed. We then sat and picnicked admiring the view and wildlife while had a confrontation with a water monitor lizard on the shore – fortunately he got away with nothing but a fright!

Luke asked some rangers the best way to go to spot some wildlife and so we set off in pursuit, having failed to find the route we tried again and this time abandoned the vehicle a bit and walked back to the shore. I had an idea that you could see hippos a little further up the lagoon but Katy wasn't up to a long walk so we returned to the car to make another attempt at finding a suitable route. Once again we came across our rangers – this time at another location. They tried again to describe the route and asked whether we would mind going half way up our legs in mud! Eventually one decide to join us in the back of the car. It was as well we had a guide because for the next 15 – 20 minutes we drove mainly across a plain with the faintest suggestion of tyre tracks here and there. Our guide obviously new the plain in minute detail. He directed us around the boggiest bits and as we progressed we saw more troops of monkeys, a herd of zebra easily visible with the naked eye and large herds of Lechwe at a little distance, A Secrtary bird with it's haughty stance tiptoed by – as if in stilettos . Eventually we stopped and disembarked – after some of us took the opportunity for a better view from on top of the cab!

We soon found out about the mud! A muddy stream formed a small barrier about 3-4 metres across. Having been promised a siting of hippos the group was keen but when the ranger walked through the stinking black mud (now we realised why he wore wellingtons!) few were keen to follow. Being rather more daft than the others I saw no problem in following and was soon on the other side my lower legs now being the same colour as my African Friends and my sandals sliding under my feet. Still there was a lot of reluctance from the other bank until the ranger removed his wellingtons and waded back handing them to each member of our group in turn and helping them across in safety and relative cleanliness (unlike my state!). A few lapwing seemed to find the whole exercise most amusing and laughed at us loudly..

Now we were moving across the plain back towards the lagoon and closer to the animals. The next couple of hours were breathtaking! We were surrounded by herds of antelopes – mainly Lechwe but also possibly a few impala among them. Vultures adorned the trees, wattled cranes, storks, egrets etc. flew past and browsed the vegetation. Everywhere we looked we were greeted with a feast of wildlife within a hundred metres or so and more stretching to the horizon. Unfortunately fishermen had disturbed the hippos, though we heard one bellowing in the distance. The sun set as we sat near the stream flowing from the lagoon and the Lechwe made there way home for the night in procession silhouetted against the horizon and others left into the stream and waded to the far bank.

We made our way back to the car and the moon was already lighting the sky. Our ranger could direct better without the headlights – the moon giving enough light and the field of view being greater than with the headlights on. (remember the tracks were almost invisible in daylight!)

Safely back at his station our wonderful guide gave each of us a shell – sometimes used as spoons he told us – and left us with a string full of fish that he had been given by the fishermen. I felt that it was us that should be giving out the gifts. I had realised just how important it is to accept the help of a guide. So often I want to do things myself. It isn't the first time that I have been lead to untold wonders by accepting the help of a guide.

It was about 21hrs by the time we arrived back in Monze the night becoming ever brighter as the moon rose and shed it's enchanting shadows on the earth. I had a bit of cleaning up to do before settling for the night.
I am now waiting to be taking out to a farm 30 km from Monze for a Bush Camp! What a life!!

With love and prayers


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