June 20, 2002
Walking back to my chalet, computer under my arm, I began to think of
all the wildlife around. Just yesterday I saw a black-breasted snake
eagle perch on my neighboring Baobab tree. It is an enormous bird,
majestic in gesture. It stayed there cautiously watching my every move
until a younger one flew ahead, and together they soared above. They are
one of the few birds that rest while flying, hovering for hours.
Today, after an afternoon swim, I followed otter tracks, which led me onto
leopard tracks! Our leopard seems to walk the same path every night
across the beach. As I walked the lakeshore path I wondered if I would
see the bright red of leopard eyes reflecting from my lantern. But, the
wildlife stay hidden. They clearly surround us, but only on
special nights like tonight will you see a Pel's Fishing Owl
accidentally fly overhead, only to duck into the thick bush, hiding
from the easily spotted humans.
In four months I have seen hundreds of birds, many colored fish, rock dassie, and
Bushbaby, which is famous for its nightly call that sounds
distinctively like a crying infant. It is nocturnal and rare to see,
but I caught one cautiously peeking its head out from a thick buddle of leaves.
I also saw I mongoose dart by, lizards of all shapes and sized, including one no
bigger than your pinky, but easy to spot by it's bright blue tail. Monkeys and
baboons are always around to munch on Nadia's garden and play 'peek-a-boo.' I
once saw an otter swim near shore, luckily I was up on a rock and could
look down on it as it swam by. That was a beautiful moment. It is
remarkable how long they can stay under water.
I have yet to see a crocodile, even though Mataka, the last village we camped at,
is crawling with them. You should have seen how Pedro ran down to collect water,
shinning the flashlight all about, looking for green crocodile eyes.
Stuart says last year five people were killed by crocs there. But
enough about that! That all happens at the end of the adventure.
Right now we are just behind the lakeside hills, moving quickly across a large
flat plain. Heading north up to Cobue River. I now have an idea what it is like to be a long distance, speed walker. There was nothing slow about our next hour. I quickly drifted to the rear of the group, where I was to remain to stay for the rest of the
trip, never falling too far behind. It would be all too easy to get
lost in those forests. Everything is beginning to dry out since the
rain stopped, but the grass still reaches over my shoulder in areas and
the path is covered with dead, drooping plants. I would collect and press
some of the last wild flowers, and then jog ahead until I could hear
I caught up to Andrew and began humming to his whistling. We mixed our
music together quite well, and kept it up while we wandered through
elephant country. I imagined I was Paul Simon and kept humming, 'Under
African Skies.' Andrew always has a tune in his head, always there with
a smile. He just started learning English with me, and we love laughing
as we try and communicate with his limited vocabulary and sometimes full
on charades. He is only 22, but he is a father of two children.
Andrew wears his staff uniform on this trip, a change from the usual yellow
stripped shirt that he will soon have to replace, for it is about to
loose both its sleeves. He may well wear it like that until
the holes forming in the back start pulling apart the shoulders.
Clothes don't last long here with all the physical work they do and the
way the woman clean them, grinding the clothes together, it is no wonder
my own clothes are thinning into nothing.
My feet where covered with blisters from my new shoes, but I hardly
noticed until we sat down on a riverbank under a family of Raffia Palm
trees. Their plastic looking orange pinecones were nuzzled in the sand. While
I was tending to my feet, a fire was started. George gladly volunteered
to see if the village store had any soda. His sister lives in this
village with a name too long and a population too small to remember.
When I say store don't picture anything as complex as a kiosk. Think of
a small grass hut with a man sitting outside. Sometimes he has soap, or
even toothpaste, but only one at a time and they always try and keep a
stock of Coke or Fanta. It is amazing to what far ends of the Earth
Coca-Cola gets to.
George came back with six warm Fantas. What a strange
color orange that drink is. I would usually pass on a Fanta. I had been dreaming
of a Coke, but anything to satisfy my sugar craving, and it went down
surprisingly well. A hit of sugar and we were all smiling again. I
prepared tuna sandwiches while the staff mixed a pot of nsima. We all
tried each other’s foods, and everyone seemed glad to stick to what they
had. I personally would prefer most things to their tasteless blob of
mush. They on the other hand their love nsima.
I often wonder what the cooks think of our strange eating habits. We complain
when we have potatoes for both lunch and dinner, while they have eaten nsima
everyday since they've been born. Mind you, it's not good for them. Most of them have
stomach ulcers, and there has been hushed talk about recent research saying
that the lack of vitamins is effecting their brain capacity. I have
really no idea about the latter, but I do know the amount of Tums I give
out around here. Nadia taught me that lemon juice also works well.
Mr. Kapito has an ulcer and eats his nsima more like a porridge, which
seems to help.
Nsima is made of well-ground cassava or corn flour and water. They slowly mix
handfuls of flour into boiling water until it becomes a thick play dough
like substance. This is nsima. It is then dumped on a large plate and
eaten with your hands. My four students sat around a plate loaded with
nsima and made a short prayer before they began tearing off bits of the
it. The take a small chunk off the mound and roll it up into a ball
before putting it in their months. They usually have 'relish' to go
with it. They had dried fish and salt this day, which is the norm. I
ate some with them. It was not bad, but very dry and bland. I am
afraid I am far too spoiled. I do enjoy eating with my hands though, so
do I hope you don't mind more hands on action at the dinner table.
To be continued...