[Photo: Sunset over the Shire River, Liwonde National Park, Malawi]
5 February 2017
We are sitting on the front porch of our chalet at Mvuu Camp in Liwonde National Park. We’re on a low bluff overlooking the Shire River a few kilometers south of its exit from Lake Malawi. Heavy rains—-we had 6 inches in 12 hours the other night—have caused the tributaries downstream to drill new streambeds and to flood with such force that the surface of the river is now flowing north, although the deeper water, our guide assures us, is still going south. All manner of water hyacinth and logs dot the surface of the river, punctuating the slow-cruising, sinister-looking crocodiles heading toward a meal. Hippos across the river belch and fart and groan and laugh and splash, frogs are peeping vigorously, and the birdsong is nearly deafening. Periodically a bird, large or small, will fly overhead at a low altitude, appearing suddenly from behind the fever trees and the mohane to surprise us. Hammerkops and Hadeda ibis, which are very common, are huge and loud and we both startle. It is 5:30AM and the sun hasn’t yet risen so the light is perfect, softening everything. Maybe when you get old, really old, and your light begins to dim this is what happens: everything is a bit softer. I recall my Uncle Fran calling me to say goodbye before he presumably took an overdose of (?) opiates. He had pancreatic cancer and felt his time had come. When he called me he was being pushed in a wheelchair around Green Lake in Seattle by his youngest daughter, Ellie, and described the beauty of the sun and trees and water with near-ecstatic enthusiasm.
Whoosh! We heard a loud, growing roar from the north and a very dark cloud accompanied by a powerful wind has come through, dumping a tropical bucket of water on everything. It is dramatic and exciting and fun; we’ve had to retreat to the inside of our chalet, although we have the same sweeping views as before, just obstructed by mosquito fabric.
We’ve come here for three days. We were driven to Hippo Lodge on the banks of the Shire, two hours from Blantyre. There we boarded an outboard skiff and whizzed for 45 minutes the 26 km upriver to Mvuu Camp and Lodge, the fancy resort in Liwonde. Linda cleverly found us a very cheap deal, game drives and river cruises and meals included. It is once a year for Malawi residents and their guests and we now qualify.
The camp is simply gorgeous. The rainy season has turned everything green and the world is bathed in chlorophyll. The buildings are stone with thatched roofs and open to the world. We’ve seen all manner of spectacular birds, monitor lizards, a little python, kudu, impala, baboons, vervet monkeys, a civet cat, wart hogs, bush pigs, a dassie, waterbuck, elephants, hippos, and, of course, the sinister crocs. You don’t swim in this river. Game park restaurants always feed you too much so it is generally better to eat a substantial breakfast, a large lunch, and an MGT (Malawi Gin and tonic) or Kuche Kuche (local beer, large bottle, low alcohol content) for supper, since much of the day is spent sitting down in a boat or a Land Rover.
I have sent in my request to extend my GHSP service for another year. In the end, I couldn’t think of anything more interesting, workwise, to do at home. I am not here to assuage my liberal guilt. I could better do that, in many ways, staying at home and working with needy populations, of which we have plenty. I’m here to do work I think is useful in a setting and culture that is interesting to me. I’m not a big believer in altruism; we do what we do for self-ish reasons.
Some among us cannot seem ever to get enough—-money, power, food, possessions—to satisfy ourselves, victims of our inner emptiness and subsequent greedy hunger. These, I think, are the people that need to be restrained, since when others are hungry, their overabundance should be shared. Our president seems to be one of these.
The wind has eased and the rain is lessening for the moment. Now thunder begins to roll. It may be a lively day. We’ll have breakfast at 7, a game drive or riverboat ride at 8, and head back to Hippo Lodge at 11:30, to catch a minibus to Blantyre. We came down in a taxi, which was very comfortable. But Pat and Stacy want a minibus experience, the full Monty.
The roads in the park flood with heavy rain, as the terrain is very flat and runoff is slow. Yesterday on our drive we went through a gully and the water covered the hood of the Land Rover. Most of the 4 wheelers have an extension to the engine air intake that is elevated halfway up the windshield, so they can go through 4 feet of water. Necessary, as we saw.
I’m going to see a man in two weeks who has no sexual desire for his second wife. The first marriage ended because of the same. He has had a medical workup and is all OK, including his endocrine function(s). I’ll need to frame our discussion thoughtfully. I don’t fully understand the problem, but since homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment here, I’ll be careful. It demands the death penalty in at least one other African country. And perhaps that isn’t the issue, but it is one possibility.
Switching topics, one thing I’m learning about working with learning disabled (read mentally retarded) children and their parents (pretty exclusively mothers), is that the latter want to come regularly to talk about their kids and struggles, even if all I have to offer is trying to understand their plight. If I suggest they return in 2 months, they look dejected and say they’d like to come in one month. So I accede. I have to accept that what little we have to offer feels like something important to them. A mentally ill, or learning disabled, child is such a burden for any parent in so many ways. And especially here, where there are only rare schools that will accept such children, let alone other therapeutic modalities.
We struggle with what is happening in the US. It is a symptom of how sick our System of Government has become that people, in desperation, vote for anyone who is perceived to be an outsider. Until we have publicly-funded elections, abolish the Electoral College, declare Citizens United unconstitutional, and have a truly progressive income tax, Washington DC will be a cesspool of influence purchased. I suppose one response is to select the biggest bully who’ll say “Fuck you” to the Establishment and hope he will follow through on it in a constructive way.
I don’t think DT is that person. I don’t think anything in his history says that he is. And surely nothing he has done since taking office says that. We’re in for a bad, bad ride. While part of me wants to be home to join the fight, another part is OK with being here and gaining the perspective I do from living in Malawi.