Sunday Morning ~ Mwabvi Mothers’ Day

Sunday Morning ~ Mwabvi Mothers’ Day

Zengelezu adalinda kwaukwau ~ If we delay, the consequences will affect us.

~ Chewa proverb

May 13, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m late with writing this week. I was camping over the weekend, away from all forms of communication and realized how peaceful and calm I felt. I got home yesterday afternoon and thought about pulling out my laptop to write but decided to linger in the unplugged world a bit longer. I had a bizarrely sleepless night last night so am up early and will write about my week(end) and post it today. I hate to break the streak I’ve got going. 

The Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi was founded in 1947. It was originally dedicated to protecting animals but over the years it has broadened its scope to environmental activism as well. It belongs to international conservation organizations and has many educational programs in the schools and community. They present a topic one Tuesday evening a month at the Blantyre Sports Club and I usually attend. It’s interesting and nice to have a drink and mingle. They organize several weekend trips to sites I wouldn’t go to on my own, and this past weekend I took advantage of the camping trip to the very south of the country, the only part of Malawi I hadn’t visited. I was a little nervous about making the three hour drive alone as I had no idea where I was going and I always feel a little safer with a companion, but everyone I asked was busy with something else so I decided to go solo. I knew I’d be meeting up with fourteen others and figured, carpe diem. 

The destination was Mwabvi Reserve, where large animals have vacated or been poached, but birdlife is abundant and interesting rock formations are scattered about. I’m not a birding enthusiast per se, but got more interested when George was here. He loved it and I love being around those who love it. Their excitement spotting and identifying is contagious. 

The plan was to meet there on Friday afternoon/evening then gather for a Ranger-led hike to a gorge on Saturday morning. I packed up my very basic camping equipment which consisted of my single person tent, piece of foam, a sheet, and a change of clothes. It’s hot there so I wouldn’t need much. I borrowed a cooler from my landlord and packed up some food, water, tonic and gin, boxes of matches (I had no stove), and set out at noon on Friday. It was a three hour drive and just in case I had a flat tire or something I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time before dark.

The organizer had sent very detailed directions describing a detour since the main road to the park had a bridge washed out. He sent a photo of the school where we should turn onto a dirt road and proceed through a village, turn at a T junction, then follow painted rock signs to the gate. It was seven kilometers on a rough road with two bridges that were the exact width of the vehicle. I would have been terrified doing that at night; it was scary enough during the day. I made it to the entrance, heaved a sigh of relief, paid my fee, then set off on the next two kilometers to the campground. I think I was expecting some type of open jamboree where we’d all camp in one big space. There are no amenities there, it’s real bush camping. I’d brought some extra food to share thinking we’d all be together, but they were individual campsites, very private, and remote. We chipped in to pay the rangers to slash the high grass so we could find the road and indeed the campsites. I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I thought others would already be there but when signing in I saw only one other person had arrived; I had no idea how to find him. I pulled into the first campsite I came to and got out of the car. Looking a the newly slashed grass I immediately thought of snakes and got back in the car. I changed into long pants and boots, left everything in the car, and went to walk around. It was easy to follow the slashed grass paths and I explored the other campsites. Not knowing if there was some plan for who slept where I didn’t want to set up my tent. I followed the road around a loop and saw a vehicle through the tall grass and hoped it was someone who knew what they were doing.

I met Phil, an older gentleman who definitely knew what he was doing. He was in the process of setting up his camp and, wow, I could have lived there comfortably for months. His tent was bigger than my living room. He had a table, chairs, cushions, stove, lanterns, air mattress, welcome mat, and piles of blankets. “Are you just here for the weekend?” I asked. He told me yes, he had been coming on this trip for years and he wanted to get there early so he could have his favorite campsite. He said he couldn’t do the hike anymore but still wanted to come. His wife died two years ago and he seemed very lonely, a bit frail, and frustrated with his aging body. He said his mind and body weren’t working in sync anymore. I could not believe he set that tent up by himself. I also couldn’t believe he made that drive alone, though he had a monster vehicle. I could have lived in that. I sat and chatted for awhile thinking, hmmm, chairs…hmm…, nice, and considered the rock I’d be dining on. He gave me the whole history of this outing, how he used to be the first one to the gorge, how he loved the place. He’s British but has lived in Malawi for thirty years. I asked if his late wife was also British and he said, “No. She was from Yorkshire.” I laughed. He just about smiled. Very British. I asked him if there were rules about who got which site and he said, “You got here first! Take whichever you want!” It sounded like an order so I left and decided to stay where I had first parked. It was small and fine for just me. I set up my little tent, then thinking of Phil’s nice little welcome mat at the door of his tent I took the floor mats out of my car and made myself one. There. Home.

I walked down a trail toward the river but it was getting toward dusk, which lasts only a moment, so didn’t go too far (snakes). One other family arrived and set up camp next to me. I went over to meet them and could tell it wasn’t their first rodeo either. Man, these people camp in comfort. I don’t have that much cooking stuff in my kitchen! It was getting dark and I didn’t want to walk through that grass at night (snakes) so said goodnight and went back to my site. We were supposed to meet at 6:30 am for the hike. I was tired. I ate my pasta salad, and decided not to have much to drink so I wouldn’t have to get up during the night to pee (snakes). I got in my tent to read. It was bliss. I didn’t need the rain fly and being open to the star-filled sky was magnificent. The night noises are a lullaby. I read for awhile and could hear other cars arriving and setting up camp in the pitch dark. Man, they are brave. When I could tell human activity had ceased, I dozed off and slept like a baby. 

It was just getting light when I woke. I sat up and could see the sunrise from my tent. I got up to light a fire for tea and laughed that I had brought two boxes of matches. It took one match. Everything is dry and the water was boiling within three minutes. I drank my tea, ate my hard boiled eggs, avocado, and bread, and set off to find the group. It was all beautifully organized. We piled into three 4 x 4’s, collected the ranger, and drove about a half hour to the trailhead. We got a few instructions then fell into line and followed the ranger who carried a large rifle. The rock formations were spectacular! Sandstone that is carved by I don’t know what. Wind? Water? But incredible shapes and textures. I’ll put some photos on facebook. We plodded along stopping for photos along the way, then came out to a gorge that took my breath away. I had no idea it would be that grand or unique. Sensuous curves along the walls with shallow water flowing through. Almost everyone stripped to their bathing suits (I didn’t get that memo) and got in the water. The Malawian family, the ranger, and I were the only ones who didn’t go swimming. I went in up to my knees just to see down the gorge, but wow. It was worth the hike. There is no other way to get there. We stayed there for about an hour, had snacks, chatted, then packed up to hike back to camp. Even though we had tree cover for most of it, that part was really hot. 

Later in the afternoon everyone met up on what they call “Sunset Rock”, a huge outcropping of sandstone with a view of miles and miles. Everyone brought their sundowner drinks. I made my gin and tonic in a water bottle and it carried very nicely. It was lovely sitting, chatting, sipping, snacking. We stayed until very dark and I was worried about Phil making it back to camp. A few of us surrounded him with headlamps and it was sad how he complained about needing help. I thought it was amazing he made it there at all. Back at camp Marc, the organizer, made a campfire and chairs and coolers were placed around for seats. We paid him for the ranger fees and people were settling in for the evening but I was ready to be horizontal so didn’t stay very long. Plus, it was bloody hot and the campfire was not as inviting as it might have been. Phil called it bush television. By then I was less worried about snakes, walked back to my campsite, had a nightcap, and tucked in. 

Yesterday (Sunday) I went back out to sunset rock to watch the sunrise, then back to make breakfast and pack up. I took a long walk down to the river bed but when it started getting really hot I walked back and got ready to leave. The ride home was easy, I was less worried about the road, and I had plenty of daylight to unpack, clean up, and get ready for work today…which I need to get to. So I’ll wrap this up. 

Today is an office day, so just working on the grant writing and my speech. I’ve been asked to speak at the Day of the Midwife celebration in Lilongwe in June, so I’ll need to prepare. Someone read my blog post last week and asked if I’d speak on midwives’ role in climate change. I asked a colleague if she knew of any Chewa proverbs that would relate to climate change. I thought I’d include it in the speech. She gave me the one above, and it’s perfect. I’ll practice saying it in Chichewa. I thought a lot this weekend about how little we need really. I used hardly any water all weekend to cook, wash, and drink. It’s one of the things I love about camping, being close to the earth and using only what you need. It took only a few sticks and dry grass to boil water, I could brush my teeth with a cupful or less, and it only took maybe a liter to wash off. The shower did feel good when I got home, though. 

Ah! I managed to avoid Facebook for Mother’s Day. So, I wish mothers everywhere all the love and respect you deserve. It’s hard work having your heart outside your body all the time. 

Love to all,


One thought on “Sunday Morning ~ Mwabvi Mothers’ Day

  1. Kyle Soucy Reply

    Glad you didn’t come across any snakes 🙂

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