Category: South Africa, Malawi 2016

Happy Birthday

May 15

The two pictures above belong in the village discussion below, but I’ve already wasted WAY more time than it’s worth trying to move them, so they’re staying here.

Zoe’s thirteenth birthday! What a treat to be able to spend it alone with her in Africa.

Zoe is still pill-challenged, so that Carol is in charge of cutting it into four pieces and hiding it in yogurt to help with the process (note Carol’s hand with the spoon), over breakfast each morning.


Carol and I were quite skeptical about today’s morning activity, which was described in the itinerary as, “This morning you will drive 20 minutes from the Majete Wildlife Reserve to Sekera Village near Chikhwawa Boma. learn more about the people, culture and daily living of Malawian villagers on your Majete Community Visit. Experience the traditional lifestyles of Malawi and witness the age old customs of a Lower Shire village. Learn about the staple food in the area, view traditional arts and crafts including mat and basket making, walk through the village to see the type of houses built by the community, learn about community income generating projects, and experience the local masked “Gule Wamkulu” dance.” Well, guess what, we did all of these things and, while clearly they were planned with us in mind, it did not feel at all hokey or artificial. There was no attempt to sell us anything, nor were we asked for a donation (we’d paid a fee of just over $100, for the three of us to do the tour). 

This was a village much like what Carol and I have experienced many times in Ghana, except that the swarm of kids here was far better behaved than the enthusiastic little kids we saw in Ghana villages. As we walked along with them from place to place, the kids were guided occasionally by men with sticks, much the way goats might be. This sounds terrible, but in fact it was done very gently and subtlety. We were very glad that Zoe was exposed to the village. At the dance ceremony we saw, we convinced Zoe (under some duress) to sing a song for the assembled throng, which was warmly received. We explained to Zoe that this type of sharing is a way of showing respect and building relationships and that it’s worth doing, even when it takes you a bit outside your comfort zone. She understood. As part of the dance performances, the villagers sang happy birthday to Zoe.

On the way back to the lodge, we stopped for a drink, and Zoe was able to talk to her family, which made her (and, I’m sure, them) very happy. I was able to post that I wasn’t blogging because of lack of internet at the lodge. More importantly, I was able to check and find that the Cubs had beaten the Pirates twice while I was offline. Life is good.

We drove back to the lodge, spotting more game en route. Rather light lunch, then we decided on a late drive this evening, so Zoe and Carol are up at the pool and I’m blogging on our private deck overlooking the river. 

So, for those of you who have not been on safari, this afternoon/evening’s drive provides a good example of the experience.

Showering before the afternoon drive was an excellent idea, as even though it’s supposedly winter here, it was sunny and in the 80s at the village, so removing the grunginess felt great. To begin (and end) the drive, we need to walk across the river on the suspension bridge that is about 100 yards long. So imagine yourself walking the length of a football field across a swift river, bouncing on narrow boards with hungry crocodiles waiting below. I lied about the crocs and there are wires that one can hold onto as you cross, but it’s still a bit of a thrill, swaying high over the river.

Starting off late in the afternoon, the air is cool, the wind in your face, and you are filled with anticipation for what you may find. You remain alert, keep your eyes peeled, even though more than 90% of what’s seen is found by the guide or spotter. When occasionally you spot something the guide has not seen, he tells you, “well spotted” and you are filled with pride and think yourself ready to become a full time safari guide.

The road is jarringly bumpy. The sky grows darker, as the sun begins to set, and you can see mountains in the distance against the colorful sky. We spot a few things, most notably, a beautiful antelope called the sable, but nothing particularly exciting. After about an hour, you begin feeling philosophical, telling yourself that sometimes you just don’t see interesting stuff and it’s all about the search, anyway.  I’m not a fisherman, but I imagine the feeling is akin to what a fisherman feels, enjoying being out in the boat, even if the fish aren’t biting.

It’s dark now, and the spotlight is being shone back and forth across the road by the spotter. Then, suddenly, lions, a male and female, appear, together with the evidence that their relationship was non-Platonic–two cubs. You watch the lions for about half an hour; the drive clearly is a success.

As we head back to the lodge, we hear a hissing sound, as one of our tires goes flat. Another adventure. Our guide and spotter change the tire, with us remaining in the jeep. A second flat tire would present a real problem, though the guide has a radio and could call for help.

Tire fixed, we head back to the lodge, and are joined at dinner by the Swedish guy, Mike. At the close of dinner, the entire staff marches out with a cake, singing happy birthday to Zoe.

I’m guessing that her thirteenth birthday is one Zoe will not soon forget.

Happy Birthday

  • Sher

    What extraordinary experiences. I’m particularly thrilled for young Zoe. Keep writing – loving the read.

  • Eve Levine

    So happy that Zoe’s birthday was so special!! Amazing!

  • Neato! Have a great flight back! We’ll all be thinking about you! If you have wifi on the plane, I’m available all day for emails!

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