Sunday Morning~ Mvuu Camp
February 5, 2017
Ng’oma yolira sikhala kusweka ~ The drum that makes the loudest noise breaks most easily
I’m sitting at the table on the porch of our thatched tent facing the Shire River, watching a pod of hippos snort and yawn. The birds and frogs are singing and it sounds like the soundtrack to a Tarzan movie. I can’t see any crocs at the moment, but we saw a parade of them last evening heading for the herd of waterbuck coming to the river to drink at sunset. The hippos are quite loud. They snort like bulls and there are hundreds of them. Well, maybe dozens of them right in front of me, but in Liwonde Park, where we came for the weekend, a mere 5,000 of these beasts live here in the river. Pat and Stacy got to watch some hippo porn in front of their tent yesterday, but we missed that show.
….Whew! A small dark bird just flew between me and this laptop. Swooping from around the side of the porch at about 70 mph and scaring the crap out of me…..phew…gotta wait a minute till my heart rate returns to normal….
It’s 5:30 and daylight is about full. I’m facing west (I think) so haven’t seen the sun come up, but I’m assuming it’s behind me somewhere. The air is still and there are just wispy clouds. It’s a change from yesterday morning when we woke to a steady rain, the remnants of the monsoon that started the night before. We got four inches (10 cm) of rain in ten hours.
We arrived here Friday afternoon by boat. We considered renting a car and driving into camp through the park, but we learned the roads are impassable at this stage of the rainy season. The boat service transporting us the 26 kilometers down the river was well worth the fare.
We’ve been to Liwonde before, but stayed at a different camp at the other end of the park. That was the dry season when the ground was brown and there were few leaves on the trees. It was hot and dusty then and the game drives took us easily over hard dirt roads. Those roads now are either rivers or muddy swamps and the vegetation is thick and green. It’s harder to see game now, so we decided to take our friends to this Camp situated right on the river and we can practically watch game from our beds. We’d been wanting to see this place, having heard about it from a few others we’ve met. The word was that it was unique and beautiful but very expensive. When I checked out the prices I thought we’d have to bag the idea. It was way out of our budget even for a splurge. But last Saturday when I was walking Pat and Stacy around Blantyre, we stopped in at a travel agent and inquired about the place. Well! Lucky Day! There was a “Green Season Special” this week and the price was a quarter of the usual. We booked it on the spot and figured out the logistics of getting here later in the week. We ended up taking a taxi the two hours to Liwonde as Pat’s lecture schedule didn’t allow us the time to take the crowded (but cheap) minibus. We’re not letting them miss that experience, however, and we’ll take one of those home later today.
Wow…..huge dark storm clouds are traveling toward me an an incredible rate…I may have to move this operation inside the tent…the wind has gone from zero to forty….whew…I’m starting to get wet….In I go! …..there… propped up on pillows, tucked under the comforter, and the only difference in the view is the screen between me and the river. I love this place. It is wildly raining and blowing right now. This makes me happy for the country. The rains have been good. The maize is high. People are glad.
And, I haven’t looked at what’s happening at home since Friday morning when I sent my daily email to my legislators. It’s been a good mental and emotional break. I realize it’s only been forty-eight hours, but it seems like longer, and my anxiety level has come down several degrees. It is healthy to take a break and go where the wild things are.
Let me tell you a little about the friends who are here with us. I met Pat Quinn when I was in college through a mutual friend who later became my husband. That was pre-Stacy. Pat met Stacy at Dartmouth where they were both in school during my Malawi Peace Corps days in 1979. We got real letters back then that arrived three weeks after they’d been written and we eagerly read reports of Pat having found a really nice girlfriend. This was corroborated via multiple sources. We didn’t meet her until were were home in 1981, a few weeks before their wedding. She was at the airport with him to meet us, and we had to agree; she was really nice. Thirty-eight years later, here we are, together again in Malawi; they are still married, I am not. Pat’s now a gastroenterologist, and he’s here for three weeks teaching at the college of medicine. We’re having fun showing them our favorite spots. I worried it would be a bit awkward with George, and worried he’d have to listen to us reminisce; after all, we have a very long history together: medical and gradual schools living a block apart, residency and more graduate school living a few miles apart, raising children together, traveling together, it’s a lot of history. But it’s good. Way more comfortable than I thought it might be, and though George is doing a lot of listening, he tells me he likes hearing the stories. So, that’s one less thing to be anxious about. We’re having fun and they haven’t even gotten diarrhea. Such troopers.
It’s also been nice for me to have a reality check. I’m both comforted and alarmed that Stacy and I are feeling the same anxiety about what’s happening at home. And Pat and George have similar reactions. It’s funny, I’m reassured that it’s not only me that feels this; I’m not making this up or overreacting as has been suggested, but I see a gender difference in the response. Jordan snapped at me in a text telling me to stop relating everything he says to politics. This was in response to something I wrote about next year’s plans adding that we’ll see what happens with a fascist dictator now. It had nothing to do with what he had asked, but I added it anyway. I find myself doing this a lot. But Jordan’s response made me think. I will never accept what is happening and think if I don’t keep bringing it up it will somehow become accepted. I also don’t want people to think I’m going along with this, agree with the madness, or normalize it. But is bringing it up all the time the right thing to do? Jordan said he thinks it’s unproductive. He said we all are upset, but should move forward rationally and not sound like the loonies that called Obama a fascist communist Stalin. He has a point. So I will try to be more thoughtful. I do want to move forward rationally. I want to spend less time justifying my feelings to people who aren’t listening. It’s a waste of energy. I need to strategize. Plan for the long haul.
I went to the bank on Friday before we left to cash a check and handed the teller my Peace Corps passport for identification. He said, “Ah, you are from the land of the free and the home of the brave. We always learned that if we made it to America, we had really succeeded.” This was said without the supplementary question of whether I was happy about what was happening there now––– a standard follow-up question since November whenever anyone asks where we are from. I heard his comment and braced myself, but the question didn’t come. He just smiled and counted out my money and handed it to me eagerly as if some of the luck of being an American would rub off on him.
I wonder in ten years if they’ll still believe that.
We saw a python yesterday on our boat ride down the Shire to watch the sunset. It was our first snake sighting. The little reptile was sitting on a tree branch looking over at a birds nest full of eggs. He looked just like the branch. Duncan, our guide for the weekend, amazed us with his acuity and telescopic vision. He picked out rare birds from 100 meters away, spotted this snake while driving the boat, and pointed out lizards completely hidden in trees overhanging the river bank. For me that is as interesting as seeing the animals themselves. To see someone completely in sync with his environment, comfortable with navigating our little boat between hippos and crocodiles, identify plants and explain their medicinal value, and with equal skill, mix gin and tonics for our sun set beverages. If he’s not content with his life, he never let on. He was nothing but manners, skill, and wisdom. Like Jordan, he’s another role model for me.
We have so much to learn from one another. I remind myself to keep listening and keep watching. I will be silent sometimes. I’m thinking. I don’t want to be the drum that breaks most easily. I want to be able to spot the snake in the tree and learn it’s wisdom.