[Photo: Yet another “brilliant” sunset, Liwonde National Park, Malawi ]
17 June 2017
What passes for “news” these days! I’d rather read the above, however, than listen to Jeff Sessions prevaricate at a Senate hearing or DT attempt to bluster his way out of the scrapes he creates for himself (and us, sadly). And the use of words. I have noticed that Brits here say “Brilliant” a lot in place of “Awesome” or, as Linda tells me I say, “Astounding”. We are trying to amplify things a bit, I suppose, but the opposite happens and the amplifier loses its punch when, for example, we produce the correct change in a fast food joint and the cashier says, “Awesome”. Not really awesome. If we have to suffer exaggeration, I like “brilliant” better—it has a sparkly quality.
I was biking away from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (I guess by now I can use QECH and you’ll get it.) yesterday and heard a pitiful voice crying, “Mami, mami”. A young woman leaning on her [aunt’s} arm was crying her heart out. Clearly her mother had died. There is a lot of public grieving of death here, which I am beginning to feel is remarkably healthy. No concern “Is this the proper place to have and express these feelings of loss?” As I biked further I heard the lawn preacher shrieking and roaring out his message to the assembled—from his tone it sounded like Death to All Sinners And That Includes You!—with his cheery background music that sounded like Heidi’s Swiss Accordion Polka. Then, biking on to Chipiku to buy toilet paper, bread flour, and fillet of beef, I thought about the accident last weekend where an 18 wheel flat-bed semi loaded with tons of sacks of cement lost its brakes on a nearby hill and crushed 8 cars, killing 4, and injuring others before plowing to a stop in a ditch. Why not aim at the ditch at the top of the hill, not the bottom? I suppose we don’t think so clearly in those situations.
Which brings me, strangely, to last weekend in Majete (Wildlife Reserve) with two couples who are friends of Linda from UK. Both men, Chris and Paul, were in the British equivalent of Peace Corps in Malawi in 1979-1981 when they met Linda. All three have been fast friends since and we, plus two spouses, bonded and laughed over the weekend. We weren’t exactly laughing during the boat ride up the Shire River when we spotted a lot of really large crocodiles on the river banks, slipping quickly into the water—toward us?—as we approached. Well, laughing nervously. Later that day we paused a game drive to have a beer at the river’s edge, admiring the large female croc on the opposite bank through our binoculars. Our guide said, “There’s a rhino.” Sure enough, a black rhino about the size of a Lincoln Town Car (stretch variety) was walking toward us. “Please get into the vehicle” he said with an edge. To our surprise, he didn’t drive away, rather toward the rhino. At one point we and Mr. R were in parallel play on opposite sides of a clump of brush. We turned off the engine and he turned towards us, coming within twenty feet, twisting his head back and forth, aiming his tiny beady eyes, and attempting to see if he should tip over our safari vehicle, attempt to mate with it, eat it, or simply walk off dismissively. Happily, oh so happily for us, he chose the last option. We were all quite scared, not the least because our wild walk across Majete that weekend had been cancelled because there was a rogue elephant. He/she had killed a ranger, put his/her tusk though a windscreen on another occasion, and, most worrisome, his/her identity was unknown. So you might come upon a herd of elephants and quietly stopping to watch them note that one was approaching you at 15mph. It was wonderful sighting the rhino, as the guide hadn’t seen one in 5 months.
On one game drive Chris spotted a kudu, lion-killed. He was eviscerated and the liver was gone. We returned the next day and discovered that much more had been eaten. It was likely the lion but it could also have been the spotted hyenas that roam there. Majete has 20 leopards, as well, though they are not easily viewed and wouldn’t compete with a lion.
We occupied the “luxury” chalet, which means our sink, toilet, shower, and sunken bath were all outside facing the water hole, unfenced. Are you sure hyenas don’t drink from the toilet bowl like my dog used to, because I generally get up to pee at night, especially after a Green or two (Carlsberg beer). I’m not really wanting to have to fight my way to the toilet. “Here boy, fetch the stick while I pee in your water bowl.” I must say we had numerous laughs and a few photos of and from the throne. We tried to take an outdoor bath but, forgetting that the water is solar heated and the sun had been down for 3 hours, we immersed ourselves only briefly in the tepid-to-cool water and called it quits.
On our final morning there was an incredible show at the waterhole in front of our chalet and the dining room. I half expected the addition of a cartoon and a newsreel of Allied Forces Sweeping Axis Soldiers Out of France or some such, as well. At 4 AM as dawn crept up, I heard munching outside our window and there was a large, bearded nyala bull close enough to touch. Later it was baboons all around. Then impala and warthogs. Followed by bachelor groups of nyala. A small family of kudu. A herd of zebras with darling babies. Then about 50 Cape buffalo. Each successive group nudged its predecessor off the scene. Enter the elephants. Cape buffalo are huge, fierce creatures but they were very wary and dwarfed by the elephants, especially the immense old bull. He made a rather dramatic entrance through the parking lot, cruising with his elegant stride past where we were sitting. I’d look so silly trying to emulate that walk but it lends him such gravitas that I want to try. It looks like Mr. Natural from the ‘60’s R. Crumb cartoons. The baby elephants were chasing warthogs, practicing their dominance. It was glorious, truly.
How did the wildness of the road lead me to the wildness of a game park? The kudu kill, our near-miss with the crocs and rhinos and rogue elephant, I guess. Somehow the wildness of the wilderness feels more acceptable to me than the wildness of the highways. Animals in the wild are always vigilant, always on high alert status; watching them is a lesson in focus. The sacrifices we make, which Freud and others have noted, to create civilization are the price we pay for predictability and some ability to relax our vigilance. So it seems unfair, having repressed, sublimated, curtailed and otherwise channeled our sexual and aggressive drives, that we should be cut down by a semi loaded with cement and having no brakes.
I’m heading for our island in Maine in 10 days. I’ll be there for 2 months. I can hardly wait. Seeing friends and family. Sitting on the front porch with coffee and a book as the sun rises, warming me as I look down the meadow toward the harbor. My lobster risotto. I wouldn’t trade my experiences here for the world, yet I do miss home.