27 August 2018
[Above photo: White-fronted Bee-Eaters, bank-nesters, on the Zambezi River]
We booked into a lovely lodge, Toka Leya (the name of the local tribe), 11km outside of Livingston so we could see Vic Falls from the Zambian side. Which we did and it was, again, amazing. I screwed up my courage and accepted Linda’s generous birthday gift of an ultralight flight over the Falls. It was like sitting on a plastic chair in a school gym for a PTA meeting, only with a lap belt. Except that we were 1500 feet up in the air. We looped back and forth over the Falls and cataracts. Exhilaration punctuated by brief moments of terror, sensibly I think. It was really fun and finally almost put to rest my fantasy of having an ultralight on Beach Island to circle Penobscot Bay early in the mornings when it is glassy calm. To do it safely would require a level of constant focus, maintenance, and time demands to which I don’t want to devote myself.
I’d love to have a dog, but I don’t even want the responsibility of that, and they just require food, petting, and walks to function remarkably well, given the breed. An airplane, however small and enticing, is out of the question. If you fall down with your dog, as I did once with Oscar when getting tangled in his legs on a run, you get a black eye from hitting Claremont Avenue with your hands thrust into your puffy jacket. If you fall down with your airplane, well, you are reduced to a smudge. But maybe I could find a time-share. My fantasies die hard. Anyway, the flight was terrific. They are amazingly capable little craft. And I’ve done it.
Instead of going on game drives at Toka Leya, which sits right on the mighty Zambezi with rocks, cataracts, and islands —-and hippos and crocodiles— in front of our chalet, we took two sunset river trips. One was primarily birding, nosing around the islands in the middle of the river. It was a transcendent moment for me to watch perhaps 30 White-fronted Bee Eaters zipping into and out of their little caves in the bank, presumably delivering insects to young. And massive Marabou Storks.
Another evening we went fishing for Tigerfish. They are too bony to be a first-line entrée but they fight like the dickens. So it is catch and release, with care, as they are called Tigerfish for their dentition. Our group—-Linda, the guide Donald, and I—caught two and had a number of strikes. Ok, Donald caught two. But it didn’t matter to us. Linda eventually sat back with a gin and tonic while Donald moved the boat around and I meditatively spin-cast as the African sun, once again (Funny, it seems to do it almost every day.), set, leaving the characteristic calm and spectrum of pink, red, purple, mauve, taupe, sarcoline, coquelicot, smaragdine…rein it in here, George! (It is so tempting to show off when, really, Google is The One.) Not catching a fish on a fishing trip didn’t bother me a whit, the setting was so lovely.
We drove to Lusaka over the awful road which is being repaired and is better than I remembered it 7 weeks ago, staying with Harry and Geke, a Dutch couple, in their baronial home on the outskirts. They fed us and let us dry out in their sheltered camping spot when we were getting soaked on Nyika last Christmas. Such interesting and generous people we’ve met. We arrived at 5 on a Wednesday, their social night at the Lusaka Sports and Country Club, where his son had played polocrosse (lacrosse on horseback). We went with them and met more interesting people. I ate ribs, getting giardia. I should have had the fish and chips, like Linda, Harry, and Geke. I’ve had ribs at Corky’s in Memphis and Everett and Jones (and many other sites) in Oakland so why am I thinking that ribs at the Lusaka Sports and Country Club in Zambia will satisfy? Perhaps if I wish hard enough. Anyway, lots of sulphurous belching at night followed by—I guess you don’t really want to know. I caught giardia once in Moscow from, I think, drinking water from one of the public dispensers on the streets outside the Kremlin—hm, is there a connection here with Mr. Mueller’s investigation? And I got it in the Sierras, in the backwoods at Yosemite, hiking with my friend, Andy. He was going off the rails, with TMJ splints to take the pressure off his spinal nerves (all caused by eating refined foods, you know) and other magical nostrums. He wanted to try a few on me and I thought, ‘What am I doing in the backwoods, sick as a dog, and depending on this maniac?’ He was a dentist at the Neighborhood Health Center where we worked. Anyway, almost enough of giardia. I’ve felt pretty awful and, unfortunately, while Flagyl makes my gut better it makes me nauseous and gives me heartburn. All will improve soon and I’ll be glad, as will my fellow passengers on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 502 to from Addis to Toronto, leaving in two days.
We got to Lilongwe after 1+ hours driving in the dark on awful Malawi roads with no street signs or streetlights, people and cars and animals and bicycles and trucks in Brownian movement. Linda, exhausted after driving all day through Zambia, skillfully negotiated us around all obstacles and into the courtyard of Korea Garden where they had one large (needing to sort and pack her stuff) room left. I went to bed. She went to eat and drink. More correctly, to drink and eat.
Goodbyes to people we love at Peace Corps Malawi headquarters the next day and she taxied with Nixon (my main man in LL) to the airport and I navigated the M-1 south to Blantyre, arriving, gratefully, at dusk.
I’ve sold the car. Linda likes to poke fun at me but I really like that little car and I sold it (her) to a really nice guy, Marc Henrion, who is a biostatistician from Luxemburg, working at the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust labs here. He also is a hero, having broken 3 hours this year in the Mt. Mulanje Porter’s Race.
I have gone to our little house, which looks so dead and empty without Linda and her decorations and cooking smells. Malawi looks very beaten and poor to me, which it is. The trash, to which I seemed to have adjusted, really bothers me as a sign that people feel hopeless. With good reason. And one of our cab drivers has a growth he showed me on his conjunctiva which obscures his vision. The “Eye Care” center gave him a pair of glasses. Apparently squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva is frequently associated (80%+) with HIV reactivity in Equatorial Africa, so I have to persuade him to: 1) get HIV testing and, if positive, get on ARV’s and, 2) see a proper ophthalmologist. I have a referral for him. Chimwemwe, our gardener who suffered a severe head injury with coma when a reckless driver hit him as he was walking to visit a friend in the hospital, can say ‘Hi.’, seems to recognize people, and is beginning to be able to move. I’m trying to see what neurorehabilitation resources might be available for him here, if any. It all feels terribly sad, the politicians continue to bloviate and, I assume, line their pockets. They don’t seem to be doing much else. The president recently gave a speech, warning the opposition not to attack him: “I am going to break a tonne of bricks on your heads.” Sound familiar? A little vision would go a long way here.
I drove the challenging road to Eric and Sophie’s last night to have a final supper with them on their wonderful farm. They are really the best. His mother, 6 of whose 7 sons are physicians, recently died at 92 on the farm in the old family home. They had a huge funeral with 400 people from the village, all the family from all over the world, and many friends and colleagues from Blantyre. She worked as a Pediatrician until 88yo, having started the Department of Pediatrics at Queens and building the inpatient wing. His father, a charismatic surgeon, died on Mulanje at 52yo with a coronary.
We walked the farm and up to the top of their hill, with a view of all the Shire Valley 3500 feet down on one side and Blantyre on the other, and chatted, watching the sunset and moonrise for my last time (on this trip) in Africa. Theirs is a rich and interesting life, with kids in Colorado (consulting to Africa), Borneo, and Burma. They are both warm and accomplished people and I shall miss them a lot, as will Linda.
Enough sadness. It is curious to me how I can feel so much when I am getting ready to leave somewhere I have invested myself, and yet I have not been fully aware of the intensity of my attachment to it. I’m going to treat myself to lunch at Flavors now for a last time—curry chicken, 2500MWK. Without a bike or car, I’ll hoof it.