Morning. Not good, but definitely morning. It came far too soon. Waking every few hours convinced I was late for something. Having to look at my watch, for some reason stuck on Toronto time, convert to Malawi time, decide if I was late, realize I wasn’t, swat at a Malaria infected mosquito – real or imagined, and try to fall asleep again. Awesome. Not.
Sniff. Sneeze. Hack. Swallow. Scream slightly. Sweat. Repeat.
Our breakfast at the lodge that used skeleton keys to lock the rooms, was an egg, dry bread and an honest to goodness wiener. Alrighty then.
We have two days off ahead of us before we head out to Rubberboot, Africa (aka Falwell, Malawi) to spend four days in a village teaching first aid and working at an outreach clinic. We are headed to The Shire River today. It drains into Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is the largest in the country, taking up 1/3 of the total space here – 118,000 km2 in size. The video advertising at the airport showed it to be crystal clear, bright blue and awesome sandy beaches. The Shire River is along the Lilongwe National Park and we are going on a hippo hunt today. We will have the opportunity to shoot as many as we want. Seriously. No limit. Can you imagine how many big game hunters this place must draw if they can shoot as many as they want to? Our weapons available to us, you wonder? Our cameras. Ha ha! Got you!
On the drive to the Reserve, we have three hours in Aaron’s pickup truck.
We saw hundreds of food stands, as well as thousands of piles of fresh food, tomatoes…mangoes…potatoes…onions…. all stacked in little pyramids along the side of the road. I asked Aaron what is done with the food each night as the vendors want to go home, or go to bed. He replied that it just stays there. “It just stays there???”, was my incredulous response. “No one is going to steal it?” I asked. He was quite puzzled at my question. “Why would anyone steal it? They can just eat it if they are hungry.” My turn to be stunned. “What do you mean, they can just eat it?” I felt like I was in a ping pong tournament as the surprise at each other’s question volleyed back and forth between us. “Of course! We all need food to live. In fact, if someone comes to eat off a mango tree in someone’s yard, they will be pointed to the one that is the sweetest. It is how we survive. We are one people.” I remember my mouth opening, but nothing came out. I had nothing. Process that one for a moment, will ya? (Yes, you…the reader of this passage. Reread it in fact. No the fact I was speechless, but that which made me so.)
I sat in silence, thinking about this for most of the rest of the drive.
Some of the big differences I have immediately noticed between these two African countries are these….Malawi, while polluted is much cleaner. Malawi is more humid. Ethiopia has 100 million people, Malawi has 17 million. There is less congestion of cars and trucks on the road, ergo less air pollution….and thousands of bicycles. There are less sticks, and more bricks. The eldest and wisest little piggy would be proud.
There is a 50% unemployment rate, 15% more than Ethiopia. Their staple food isn’t injera, it is nsima. It is a corn flour based, gluey dumpling like smooth blob that is used as their main starch. It is much like very thick, dry semolina with a similar taste and consistency. It is not bad.
We arrived at The Hippo View Lodge a few hours later, Kwacha in hand to pay for a four hour private boat ride along the river to see what animals would let us have them in our live zoo…..circle of life and all, firstly the zoo animal, now the spectator. Simba would be proud.
Mere seconds after me wondering out loud who would see the first hippo, I spot the beast – mouth wide open as it broke the surface of the water. Had it hiccuped right then, a large portion of the river water would have disappeared it’s mouth was so huge! I wondered if the opportunity had just passed by everyone too quickly, for I was the only one to see it. I needn’t have feared as over the next four hours, with ZERO exaggeration, we probably saw between 500-1000 hippos! Some groups/schools/pods/gangs ? Not sure what the proper hippo grouping is called, and without my friend Google to help me, I can only guess, we saw up to 50 in one bunch. Their backs were quite scarred as apparently hippos like to rumble in dark alleys behind the bars at night. They are quite territorial, and will chomp and/or shank the offending hippo from the wrong corner of the river. Why can’t they just wear coloured headbands to identify their gang colours like the Crips and the Bloods do?
The next animal we saw large quantities of were elephants. Their skin was much darker, more charcoal like, than I expected. Perhaps it is because they are African elephants instead of Asian elephants? They were very beautiful and peaceful at the same time. One of my most favourite pictures of me Alynne took with the elephants in the background headed into the river for a swim. I will try and add it later.
Crocodiles were also very plentiful. Steve Irwin would have not known where to wrestle first.
We also saw Fish Eagles, Kingfishers, termite hills, Baboons, Water bucks, Water buffalo, Bush bucks, Warthogs, Ibex, Herons, Elephant skulls and burnt out poacher boats. It was sadly not our day to see a lion, giraffe, rhino or zebra. However, we did see lots of other animals.
I also got intimately acquainted with the Tse Tse fly as it chomped my left calf not once, but twice!!! I was about the size of a nickel and it wasn’t a puncture wound, it was a definite shanking of my flesh as it cut me twice. It was so fast, I got my second bite before my superhero reflexes of shrieking and slapping could kick in. I am told they are also called hippo flies and they carry the disease called African Sleeping Sickness. Usually more bites than this are needed to infect someone….but….If you find me sleeping and won’t wake up in the next few weeks, please call the bambulance and tell them what happened. Joking, but somewhat serious….
We thought we were supposed to stay there, but Aaron says it isn’t in the budget, so we go to the Two Deuce motel instead. Rolling blackouts seem to be a big thing here, and we definitely had our share of no power that night. We arrived by candle light, ate by candlelight, and went to bed by candle light.
While waiting for supper, Lee, Alynne and I lay on their bed flat out. We were overheated from the day on the river, the temp of 36oC with 112% humidity (or close enough) and moaning about the fact we had no power for AC or even a fan. I think my sweat beads were sweating. In desperation Alynne cried out, “All I need right now is a fan!!!” Well, the disparate primal tone of anguish stirred something deep inside me that had been laying dormant for weeks, and frankly it surprised me. It could have been the tone of her suffering that resonated with me, or the battle cry in her desire to survive the heat, but I leapt to my feet with the cartoon lightbulb above my head illuminating the room like you see in comic books!
My parents were practically there in Africa with me in that moment. Let me explain. Picture this, Sicily…1884….just joking….. My parents had suggested I bring a solar charger capable battery pack with me in case of being out in the middle of nowhere and the need to charge something arrived. Well, when I ordered the one I got from amazon.ca, inside the box was a little bonus gift I hadn’t expected. A FAN!!!!!! I leapt from the bed as though I was a worm in a hot frying pan and Alynne and Lee wondered if I had been bit by the Tasmanian devil I moved so fast. Seconds later, we were taking turns holding salvation 4” from our face. I am ashamed to admit when I saw the little fan, I scoffed at it a bit as it seemed gimmicky, but wow…was it exactly what we need to keep from slipping over the edge in that moment.
We have now arrived at the part of this journey you all knew was coming, but have been with mixed emotions about. Do you really want to know about how we pooped over there…or not…Kind of like peeking at something gross and unable to stop yourself from looking…or in this case reading.
My razor blade throat now has company. Alynne has started to puke every time she eats. We both also have started stomach cramping and bloating with the occasional Di-poopus-of-the-blowhole. Hence, why we named this establishment the two deuce motel. With the absence of power and running water, we needed to use the bucket of water with dead flies in it to manually flush down the contents of the toilet…be it vomit or poop, and there is only enough for two flushes per bucket. I’ll let your imagination take it from here, and just say your imagination is probably not as good in it’s painting of this picture. Especially when the rinse bucket runs out of water post puking….
We finally get to bed after our charcoal cooked fish is served. Some have the head still on, some of us do not. Yes, even I got the fish. Locals say the fresh fish out of the lake is a world delicacy. I figured since I wasn’t someone who enjoyed coffee before Ethiopia, and now I love their coffee, perhaps if this is considered a world delicacy I should try this too.
My fish arrives, but not how I would have totally preferred to receive it. I was hoping for a fillet, maybe breaded and fried with a little lemon maybe, but my only option was head on or off. I chose off. Not super interested at looking at the face of the animal I am eating, EVEN IF THE HEAD MEAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST PART.
It wasn’t the worst thing I have eaten, at least it was white fish. But it smelled of fish and there were skin and scales everywhere. Not happening again this trip. Period.
I filled the gap with mangoes and called it a night just so the day could be over. I felt like crap. Judging by the sounds coming from Alynne’s bathroom, it isn’t going well there either.
Tomorrow is a new day.