Sunday Morning~ Majete Wildlife Reserve
June 11, 2017
I’m sitting outside our tent watching a lone elephant drinking at the waterhole. Jimmy, our guide for the weekend, tells us it’s only males that are solitary, banished from the herd for bad behavior. I asked him what they would have to do to be considered “bad” by other elephants? Fighting, mostly, he tells us. He taught us how to tell if an elephant is right or left handed. (I think I’d probably have used the word “dominant”, but we got what he meant.) One tusk is always smaller than the other; the smaller one is used with more force when pushing down trees, so is on their dominant side. After he taught us that, every time we saw an elephant he asked us, “Is he left or right handed?”
George and I got the luxury tent this time. We were only supposed to stay here Friday night, then leave Saturday morning on a walking safari across the game park with a group from the wildlife society; an annual camping trip with armed scouts. The group was supposed to camp in a remote part of the park but sadly, that adventure was cancelled because a rogue elephant has been misbehaving. He killed someone and overturned a car. Bad boy. The elephants apparently haven’t gotten the memo that tourism will save them. You like those uneven tusks of yours? Well, behave buddy. We’ve only come to gaze at your beautiful ivory, not kill you and steal it.
So, that trip cancelled, we spent two nights instead of one with our dear friends from UK, who are back in Malawi for the first time in thirty-seven years. They let us have the “luxury” tent because they are so polite, but when they saw what “luxury” meant, they were grateful for their good breeding. It’s basically the same tent as everyone else, except that our bathroom is outside, as in, no roof and no walls. It looks like a set from either Gilligan’s Island or The Flintstones. When the staff proudly showed us the sunken tub (poured concrete between some boulders), I asked if the animals ever thought this was another waterhole? He laughed. The toilet sat open to the view as if it were waiting to be installed. But, no, all installed, and rather exposed to the big-five wandering around, we were afraid to go out there during the night, and a little leery in the morning as well. But now, two days later, it’s feeling like home. I spent a fair amount of time today trying to figure out how to make one just like it.
I look out at the water hole now and the elephant is gone. Five zebra are slowly making their way past our tent sauntering toward the water hole. I wonder if they’ve been back in the bush waiting for the elephant to leave?
The last time we were here in October, it was stiflingly hot and we could barely move. I remember trying to write the blog and being worried the sweat pouring down my wrists was going to ruin my laptop. This time it’s been a little cool! I felt terrible that I didn’t tell our guests to bring a warmer sweater. On the evening game drive Friday night we were shivering and huddling together. Winter in the Shire Valley is cooler than I thought it’d be! Either that or my blood has gotten very thin. It’s still warmer than summer in Maine, though.
It’s late morning now and we’ll go back to Blantyre after lunch. Our friends have hired a car and driver, so we’ll just wait to be collected and transported without stress. We’ve had to check out of our tents, so I’m sitting on the wicker settee under the thatched roof of the dining area, laptop on my lap. The others are a few steps down off the platform in the canvas seats facing the water hole: George and Paul discussing bird life and cataloging all the species we saw this weekend, Sarah writing letters, Penny reading. Chris has just made more coffee. Everyone seems content. There’s an air of peacefulness and camaraderie. I feel blessed. I’m happy to have these friends, happy to have this partner, happy to share this place I love so much.
Friday, we arrived here at three in time to get our tents settled and have tea before our four o’clock game drive. We piled into the LandCruiser with Jimmy, the guide, driving and Kenny the scout, riding shotgun holding an actual shotgun. We saw the usual impala, waterbuck, warthog, etc. and were particularly focusing on birds as Paul is an enthusiast. At five-thirty we were standing on the riverbank drinking a beer and eating peanuts and sausages, as we watched the dusky peach sunset, when Jimmy said in a loud whisper, “A rhino!” and pointed to a black rhinoceros about fifty meters downstream on the same bank. Everyone grabbed their camera. Jimmy said he hadn’t seen one in five months. From what seemed like a safe distance, we took pictures until, as the rhino started walking directly at us, Jimmy said, “I think everyone needs to get back in the vehicle.” We all jumped in and Jimmy started the engine and drove toward this beast! I thought we’d go in the other direction! He pulled alongside, about ten meters away. I thought it was exceedingly close, and man, that horn! That is one serious protection device. He turned and started walking toward us and Jimmy started the engine, which made the rhino stop. It was way closer than what I thought was safe. He was approximately the same size as the vehicle! He looked at us with tiny, little bitty eyes (Those eyes are so small compared to that body!) until I guess he decided we weren’t a threat and then turned and lumbered away. It was thrilling.
Tomorrow our friends will take off to explore the rest of the country and the places they knew when we were here together in 1979. I’ll go off to the office to write exam questions and grade case studies. I’ll meet with a woman named Endless about starting a women’s class for basic skills and English. I’m not sure what her role is here but I’ve heard she works for a women’s organization and she’s brilliant and a good resource. I need someone to give me an idea of what is possible. I’ve been vacillating between the big picture and the tiny one. This weekend we looked at Baobab trees almost 2,000 years old and I thought what a tiny blip we are on this big earth screen. I think of flipping the binoculars and looking through the wrong end so everything seems small and more manageable. It’s a strange comfort.
.George leaves for home in three weeks; I’ll go in seven. The year has been a blip.
Two wart hogs now run behind the zebra, who stand in the water as if their feet haven’t had a good long soak in forever. They look in separate directions like they’re not speaking to each other for some reason. They are just standing in the water, not drinking, not bathing, not moving. I never get tired of looking at them. Each one with it’s own fingerprint of stripes on a hide securing a skeleton too fragile to support a man or pack. That’s why they’ve never been domesticated.
It’s now the most glorious temperature. The morning clouds, that hid the setting moon, have burned off and the air is dry, breezy, and soothing. Yesterday morning, I watched the full moon set from where I sat on the toilet. No lie. Elephants and Kudu strolled by under the full moon while I sat and peed on a porcelain toilet. I could have thrown a pebble and hit them. When we came here in October we vowed to come often to support the place. I’m not sure if our friends hadn’t come, we’d have made it back. How did we slip back into the working lifestyle routine where we forget we live in exoticville? Getting a car might change that (I hope!). God forbid we become boring.
In an hour we’ll have lunch, another meal whose calories we have not earned. Since this camp is inside the park, we can’t walk around, and we all feel overfed, though that doesn’t stop us from ingesting the next plate placed before us. We speculate we may have burned some calories being jostled around the Land Cruiser, and if heart palpitations burn any, then seeing that rhinoceros turn and walk slowly toward us may have used up a few.
A toad just hopped off the pillow behind my head and plopped next to my elbow. That startled me a bit! He’s tiny. Now he’s leaped onto the bottom shelf of the coffee table in front of me. He’s staring at me. I’ve clearly disturbed him. Yesterday afternoon I was reading on our verandah outside the tent, and a very large colorful caterpillar crawled along the top of the settee. I only saw him because I shifted position. He seemed friendly and harmless, but at least four inches long and hairy, and I was not inclined to let him crawl around on my seat. I brushed him off to the ground, and was a little more attentive next time I used the bathroom.
There’s a lesson in here somewhere for me and I wish I could nail it down. Something about all getting along and living side by side with different species, shapes, and sizes. Something about protecting ourselves and respecting each other. Something about sharing the water, sticking together and being alert. It’s all swirling around as I feel dozy and start to nod off before lunch.
Love to all,