Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Souvenirs

Mary Ann bought a separate bag to carry back the little animal statues and other things she bought for our house and for gifts to friends and relatives. While I used to be pretty good about buying gifts for people decades ago, I've changed and hardly buy anything anymore. But I have my memorabilia. I just neglect to hit the currency exchange shops in the airports on the way out of the country and I end up with lots of remembrances that reside in my desk drawer.

So, joining the euros and francs are South African rand, Namibian dollars and Zambian kwachas from this trip. In fact, I may have gotten carried away. I think I have about 156,000 Zambian kwachas, not counting coins. Of course, that's just under $40, but it looks impressive. And they all have interesting animals on the bills.

My only regret is not finding a way to pick up any Botswannan or Zimbabwean money. We didn't actually set foot in Zimbabwe, but I hear their hyperinflation rate would make the kwachas look normal.

Recovery

When we first planned to go to Africa, we went by the Travel Clinic and had all kinds of shots for everything from typhus to hepatitis and took our daily malaria pills with us. For almost the entire month, I had no health problems of any kind. Of course, I used the hand-cleaner goop and drank bottled water, at least at first.

But by the time we'd been in Zambia a while, I was a little less concerned about that and began to trust the well water. (They call it bore hole water a lot.) Mary Ann was having some problems, mainly because she was spending a lot of time with the little orphans and was having many close encounters with runny noses. I was mainly dealing with college students -- cleaned up, nicely dressed college students at that.

Of course there was our last Sunday. We went into town to worship with the Kalomo High School church. The high school has about 1200 students and the church was totally run by the students. I think there was more than one kind of church running that morning at the school, because I could hear a whole 'nother group singing songs just a few rooms over. There were about 100 people at the service in the 20 x 40 foot class room, divided girl-side/boy-side as is usual in Zambia. David Gregersen was the guest preacher.

But then came the time for communion. As is usual, there was the passing of the unleavened bread. By the time it reached me, it was a bowl of crumbs, but I picked one. And then there was the wine.

Now, last Sunday's communion at the Kasibi village, there was the familiar tray of cups. I large tray is passed with many tiny cups. But at the KHS church, I don't think they had the budget for specialized communion ware. Two regular sized metal cups were presented, filled with wine and passed out to the right and left side of the group after the blessing. I have to say, I had my qualms about sipping from a cup that had already been at 30 or 40 mouths before mine, but at least it was real wine, and maybe the alcohol would kill some of the germs. I sipped and trusted everything would be okay.

I don't actually think I caught anything, but it was memorable.

But then, as our last days in Africa arrived, everyone was coughing. I think it was due to the unseasonable rain shower a few days before. Plants were turning green in preparation for the rainy season and allergies were rampant. This was followed by three days in airplanes, with the fumigating sprays and the close quarters with the other travelers. Mary Ann was having sinus problems, and I was starting to feel the effects as well.

By the time we arrived home, both of us were sinus congested and coughing from the drainage. Mary Ann went to the doctor yesterday, but I still trying to recover on my own. With the combination of jet lag and congestion, we've been sluggish and droopy. There's so much to do, now that we're home. I hope it clears up soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Taxes

I paid my first quarter's Texas sales taxes using their web form system. Since most of my book sales are through the websites, with Amazon, et al, handling taxes on their own, I have very little manual sales to deal with, but I intend to follow the rules.

It was an interesting exercise, and I was relieved that it was so easy to handle on-line. With all my travel I'd hate to missing a tax filing because I missed a letter in the mail. It appears there's only a 20 day period after the end of a quarter before the taxes have to be filed. This time I actually filed early since I doubt I'll be peddling any books door to door between now and the 30th.

Luckily, I have no employees, or I'd have to file forms for that as well.

Midnight in Zambia

It's just past five in the afternoon here in Texas, but that puts it after midnight in Zambia and my body is complaining. At least the air conditioner is working.

When we arrived, Debra told us she had turned the house air conditioner back on and the house should be cooled down for us. Well, it didn't quite feel like it. A few hours later, the temperature had climbed towards 89 and I knew that something was wrong. I checked, and the compressor wasn't even trying to run.

I have to tell you, it's much hotter in Texas than it was in Africa. Even in the deserts of Namibia, it wasn't that bad. We fired up the AC in the RV and spent the night there.

Today the Fox guy arrived in a timely manner and located the problem. Ants in the wiring. A new 'contacter', and the air began to cool. Texas fire ants may not build as impressive a mound as those termites in Africa, but they can be quite annoying. One more thing to take care of, now that we are home.

Things That Work: APC UPB10 Mobile Power Adapter

I'm back from Africa, and gradually getting caught up with sleep. I have many blog posts to do, but I thought I'd get this one out of the way while it's still fresh in my mind.

I knew I'd be on the plane for long hours, so I planned ahead, loading many television shows in my 80-gig iPod. But, to handle the power in restricted environments, I purchased the APC UPB10 battery gadget I saw in Office(Depot|Max) while doing my last minute packing.
APC UPB10 Mobile Power Pack for charging mobile devices

It's a smart battery with a USB port. You simply plug your USB cord into it, as if it were a computer, and any gadgets that can charge from USB will be charged. It has a button on it that illuminates the strip showing the amount of charge still left. From the user level, it's very simple. The internal intelligence regulates charging and handles the power level strip. You can look at the advertisement for tech specs. Let me tell you how it worked for me.

I charged it up before leaving on the trip, a full month ago. Most if the time it stayed in my gadget bag since I was able to use other power sources for my iPod. On the trip out, I mainly watched the in-flight movies, since there were several I hadn't seen in the theatrical release, only watching two or three shows on my iPod.

But on the way back, it was different. I left Cape Town at 2 P.M. on Tuesday, and arrived in Austin at 11 A.M. on Wednesday, taking three planes (7 hours time zone difference). During the flights and layovers, I watched many episodes of Smallville and didn't touch the in-flight movie system. I tried to sleep a couple of times with poor success, and the iPod was playing music for that three hours. In all, I ran the iPod down to near empty four times and recharged it to full each time using the UPB10. By the time I arrived home, the APC gadget still showed that it had a quarter charge left. With the exception of landing and takeoff times, the iPod was running the whole trip. I am quite pleased. If it can handle that flight, I can't imagine one it couldn't. As you can see from the photo, it's about the same size as the iPod and fit my pocket easily.

It worked. I recommend it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Makuas Everywhere

We're back to Capetown for the night, and it's been a hectic day. We packed, and said goodbye to the Gregersen's and I took one last look at their veranda as I loaded up into the LandCruiser for the run to Livingstone. Donald drove and told us the story of the Cow, the Goat and the Dog.

Mary Ann stopped at a Livingstone marketplace and bought some more trinkets while Donald and I sweltered in the heat. Kaloma and Namwiamga are up on the plateau which makes them a little cooler than Livingstone, which is down on the Zambezi River. We checked in and watched with some amusement all the tourists on safari. Somehow, we felt old and experienced. But in the departure lounge, it struck me that I was in a sea of Makuas. Makua is the Tonga word for whites. I'm just guessing on the spelling and exact definition, but that's what we were.

Then there was flights:
Nationwide Airlines/ Boeing 727-200/ Livingstone to Joburg. (That's "Johannesburg", but that's not what people say) It was a very cramped seat. Then the new luggage Mary Ann bought to carry all the trinkets broke off a leg.

Nationwide Airlines/Boeing 737/Joburg to Capetown
The flight was okay, but we were stuck in the airport with an overly-delayed shuttle to the hotel and we almost missed supper.

I'm tired, and a little uncomfortable with being back in the 21st century.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wall Spiders

I'm used to them now. In every room of the house are spiders on the wall, about one or two to a room. They are large. Legs and all cover a bit more space than a silver dollar. You don't swat them. They are like house pets, almost. Our first night, David called one by name, but he was just joking, probably. They are harmless to humans and eat mosquitoes. They normally just decorate the walls quietly and mind their own business. I can live with that.

Rain

Often, when meeting a Zambian, certain topics come up. How many children do I have? What is the weather like in the US?

Sometimes I get the feeling that they think the weather is all the same in the whole country, and when I try to answer, we get tangled up in a simple difference. Here there is a wet season and a dry season. They can't understand a place where it could rain at any time of the year. Early on I was told that here, it was the dry season, with the last raindrops having fallen back in July, and no more rain expected until the end of October.

It is green here, I'm told, during the rainy season, but of course, the mosquitoes come out as well. October is the "suicide month", when it gets hot all day long and it doesn't even cool down at night. Then, over the course of three weeks or so, the clouds will come, building and promising rain that never seems to come, complete with lightning. And then the rainy season begins, with torrents.

However, for the past three days, the usual cloudless skies were less so. People started commenting about how strange it was to have clouds at this time of year. And then, this afternoon, I was sitting on the veranda, under the metal roof, and I heard the shotgun patter of raindrops.

At first I didn't believe it was rain. As the clouds had passed over earlier, I had heard a similar noise whenever the sun came out and the metal roof began expanding, creating popping noises.

But this was really different. Then, I noticed leaves moving as if they were being hit by raindrops. I walked out, and confirmed it. Rain had come. Unseasonable, and puzzling to one and all, it has rained lightly for a couple of hours now. The air smells of it. And even though the ground has been baked dry for so long that every drop is immediately soaked up, the air is comfortably cool.

I had seen the reports of flooding deaths up north in equatorial Africa, and this is probably just a a finger of the clouds that have wandered down to Kalomo, but it confirms again how much new chaos has been added to the world's climate.

Internet at Namwianga

Before coming here, I knew the Gregersens had Internet because they posted their blog regularly. I also knew they had a monthly bandwidth budget, so I was expecting there to be limitations.

It turns out that there are a number of internet solutions here, all with limitations (of course). In their front yard they have a big CopperNet dish that's about twice the size of the Hughesnet disk that I have on the top of my RV, but their satellite connection has about the same speed as Hughesnet in prime time.

Other houses on campus had a Zamtel solution. This was basically Internet over cell phone. A CDMA USB modem was connected at the house and an external antenna was installed on the roof. The computer, typically a Windows laptop, would connect like dialup. The home I visited last night couldn't connect their new Vista machine because it didn't have the necessary driver, so it was relegated to playing music while the XP laptop was the only one connected.

Harding University has a number of their students here, taking a semester or so of classes in Zambia, getting experience living in this culture. Harding had installed a Big Dish, with a wireless transmitter that would cover the whole campus. It had just gone on-line a week or so ago. It ran great. People were starting to disconnect their individual solutions in favor of this campus-wide network. The Gregersen's had turned off their dish.

But then, this is Africa. the Big Dish (I can't remember the brand) failed after working one week. Spare parts have to come from the UK or the US, and that means being delayed getting through customs. CopperNet was turned back on and I helped one of the other houses get their Zamtel solution distributed via shared Internet on a laptop so all the Harding students could get their email easier than camping out on the Gregerson's veranda, or going into Kalomo to use the Internet cafe.

Unfortunately, with email came the notice that one of the student's father had just died and Skype was called into play to make family connections and arrange for an emergency flight home.

All in all, the Gregersen's monthly bandwidth budget is coming close to being exhausted in just one week. And the spare parts aren't here yet.

Lessons on the Veranda

I've had four of them so far, and another scheduled for this evening. From 8 to 18 students arrive in the dark to come sit around the table on the veranda and look at me expectantly. I have to wonder what they actually expect to hear from me. Of the 50 or so students that have come to these sessions on 'Writing for Publication', about 6 have admitted to having actually written something. Two have been brave enough to show me a sample of their work.

Since my classroom presentations were oriented towards giving them an awareness of some of the basics like characterization, description, plotting and point of view, I had thought they were coming to find out some of the business-related aspects of writing. Given the limitations of the setting, with few willing to ask any questions, I've been covering some of the basics: There is a manuscript format. Where do you look in a magazine for the editor's address? Short stories are more likely to sell than long ones.

But the last session was attended by Third-Years, effectively the college seniors, and I had not presented the classroom sessions to them. Some of their questions were things I had covered with the First-Years, like dialog.

I wish I had a way to start a writer's group with them, and coach them through a few weeks of it. People in America just can't appreciate how isolated they are. They seem to know what email is, but few if any have any internet access. The post office is a 7 km walk away, and the whole college shares one box number. Maybe all that will improve when they get their computer lab up and running with it's connection to a large satellite dish. They have a number of hand-me-down Windows 95 computers that will soon go on-line.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Here in Namwiamga Mission

My little point and shoot camera may have died, probably because of dust in the lens mechanism, but if you want a photo of what we're doing here in Zambia, take a look at the Gregersen's Blog. Linda Gregersen and Mary Ann came out in the middle of one of my sessions and started taking pictures. It took me a moment to get back on track.

Of all the students I've been talking to, there are a few who have already been writing their own stories, but the options are so limited here for them. I've been showing them how to look into magazines and find the publisher's information so that they can find the editor's address. It's seven km into town if they wanted to get to the post office, and internet access for them is very limited.

But one student has already had an article published in the Livingstone newspaper, and what I read last night from another student showed great promise.

Water!

This morning, there was water gurgling in the pipes. I was able to clean up without having a bucket brought in. Wonderful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Voice Lessons

Monday, I gave my first lessons at the George Benson college here at Namwiamga Mission. I suggested several topics to the English department here and they liked the idea of talking about authorial voice and writing from the heart. With two one-hour classes to give, I made up a couple of Keynote presentations, understanding the warning that they had electricity, but it wasn't guaranteed reliable.

But making the presentations at least gave me an outline to talk from, and I made sure that I have paper copies handy, just in case.

There were two presentations of the first hour, back to back, and my voice held out, I'm glad to say. The faces watching me were an interesting study in contrast. Some were rapt. Especially in the second hour, with the Math and History majors, there were a few who dozed off. And just as I'd been warned, no body asked questions. I take that back. One young man did ask for a clarification and I tried to give it. If they were having as much difficulty understanding my Texas flavored English as I was with Zambian English, I'm surprised that all of then hadn't dozed off. At least they could read the slides projected on the wall.

After supper, about 15 of them arrived on the veranda for a discussion of writing for publication. I did my best to get them to talk, and although only three of them admitted to having written anything, and few were willing to ask any questions, we did get along for about an hour. Only when the group broke up did the people with real interest linger. Out of those 15, maybe five had a real desire to write and I hope I get a chance to talk to them one on one and look at their work.

In thirty minutes, I'll be giving the second presentation. I hope my voice will last.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Holding Hands

Since that day we spent at the Lusaka airport, I've been noticing another one of those cultural differences between the Zambian people and Americans. Zambians hold hands.

It was common all around us. The girls in uniform would be walking through the airport, hand in hand. Chance-met businessmen greeting and talking to each other at the airport would hold hands. Simple handshakes were more elaborate and often wouldn't end for a moment or two. The only thing I didn't see was a man and a woman holding hands.

When I shook hands with Mr. Chanter at his lodge, I fumbled the handshake and he explained the Zambian handshake to me: Start with a standard handshake, release with the thumbs still locked and briefly hold the top edge of the other's hand, and then slide back into the standard grip.

That information came in handy as I began meeting all the friendly people on the mission and in the bush villages we have visited. The only time I've had a Zambian stick to a simple American handshake is in places where they're used to novice travelers. Out at the Kasibi church on Sunday, the worship service ended with an expanding reception line, where everyone shook everyone else's hands. A half-dozen of the Zambians used an American handshake, but I was pleased to note that the young men of the Harding students there seemed quite adapted to the Zambian handshake.

Water

Friday, when we were picked up in Livingstone, we were warned, "Take a good hot bath and enjoy it. We're under severe water rationing."

It's been a constant theme while we're here. The Namwiamga Mission campus, which holds about a thousand people, gets clean water from wells, and other water from a little lake. This is the beginning of the school term, and also approaching the peak of the dry, hot season. The system failed, and all the pipes and tanks have gone dry.

It's interesting how people have coped. David Gergersen has been working day and night the whole time trying to find the problem and fix it. They've changed pumps at the well-head and walked the pipes, looking for a leak. As yet, the problem remains.

There are a couple of dozen American students here working, and after days of no water, seem to be adapting. Lake water can be treated and you can pour it over your head for limited cleaning. The air is dry, so you don't get terribly sweaty.

The Zambians take it all in stride. In bush villages, sometimes there's a well, but other times water has to be hauled in on an ox-cart from the nearest river. A place where there's running water on demand at the nearest faucet is nice, but it's lack is hardly the end of the world. But then, their concept of a crisis is much different from our reaction as Americans. A school with a thousand students and no running water isn't something to be excited about.

I'm managing okay. In fact, Mary Ann and I picked up about 60 liters of bottled water at the store before coming out here, so other than bathing out of a bucket and getting the laundry done in lake water, we're sitting pretty.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

A Different World

Today, I rode in the back with a few other people drove out to a Bible meeting out in the bush. Linda Gregersen, who drove, didn't know the location of the place, so we followed someone who did on his Honda motorcycle. The roads kept getting smaller and smaller, until we were driving on a cow path at the last.

The meeting had already started. I walked into the little meeting room and found a place to sit on the men's side. The 'pew' was a raised bench about the height of a cinder-block, plastered over with a sandy covering. My knees just barely survived when we stood for a song.

But when the singing started -- I was overwhelmed by the sound and the vibrance of the voices. Certainly the thatched roof was hardly the best acoustics, but it was a wonderful hymn, although sung in Tonga, I hardly had a clue what the words were.

After a break, the men, about 20 of us, gathered under the shade of a tree and several hours of lessons ensued. They were translated, probably for my sole benefit, and dealt with church leadership. It was the same sermons I'd heard growing up, with the same scriptures quoted. Luckily my ipod had the bible loaded, or I'd have been really out of place.

I contributed little, but they were gracious. During lunch, I was offered some of their staple dish, sort of like corn meal cooked into a very thick mound. You break off some, roll it in your hands and eat it.

On the way back, our guide wasn't available, but I'd recorded the route on my GPS, so we found our way back to the main roads.

All in all, an interesting introduction to the Zambian bush.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Slowing Down in Livingstone

One of the features of the safari trip is constant activities. I held up to it for a couple of weeks, but I'm a self-paced kind of guy, and a few days ago, I let Mary Ann do all the game drives and I took time off. Today we're in Livingstone at Chanter's Lodge and officially the safaris are over. We did go out on one last game drive this morning, and saw the last white rhino in Zambia. He wanders around in the park with a couple of armed guards. Apparently all his fellows were poached.

Our driver saw the man walking along with his AK-47 and called out to him. Tourists aren't supposed to get out of the vehicle, but we managed to take a short walk over to where the rhino was grazing.

Tomorrow, we'll be picked up by the Gregersens and head off to Kolomo. Luckily, I've just finished my class outlines. The next few days will be an entirely different kind of Africa experience -- and I have no idea what will come.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Croc Posting Updated.

The promised video about the croc is now on-line. We're in Livingstone Zambia now, with real internet.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Contrasting Customs

Chobe Game Lodge is on the Botswana side of the Chobe River, and Chobe Savanna Lodge is on the Namibian side of the river, actually within sight of each other. Today we moved from the Game Lodge to the Savanna Lodge.

First we loaded up all eight people into a Land Cruiser, with an attached trailer for the luggage and drove out of the park into town. At least that's what we started to do. One person yelled "Oh, No!" He'd left his passport in the room safe, so the driver did an impressive three point turn, with trailer attached, on the one-lane road that was eight inches deep in sand, and drove back to get it.

Arriving at the Immigration office, we went in and filled out the little, almost universal, form that includes name, passport number, and assorted other info and checked out of Botswana. Tourists and luggage was then loaded up on two aluminum outboard motor boats and drove down river a couple of miles where we got out and hiked up a dirt road into the trees where a Namibian Immigration office was hiding. We filled out a duplicate set of forms and hiked back to the boats. Then, we rode upriver back into the park, stopping to check in at a dock-side registration office, and then on to the Savanna lodge.

It was a nice trip, for traveling in circles. There were picture opportunities with an elephant crossing and herds of cape buffalo and the usual wart hogs and lions.

But what made an impression on me was the two contrasting Immigrations offices.

Botswana: On the walls were several free condom dispensers with a large bulletin-board sized illustrated poster advocating masturbation.
Namibia: On the walls were several wild animal and bird identification posters, plus a poster that showed how to identify abandoned shells and other unexploded ordinance.

Africa is a place with its problems, no matter how beautiful.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A Whole Half Day

The Chobe Game Lodge is more like a hotel than the camps we've been at before so I decided to take a break. After the sunrise game drive and the morning boat ride on the Chobe River, I took time off from the activities and spent the whole afternoon working on my computer and letting my brain recover. It's done wonders for my alertness, and I've made progress on the lesson plan for when I teach my classes.

Mary Ann came back from the drive I didn't take with a load of new pictures, including leopard photos. We ate and I came back while she talked to some new friends. Oh, by the way, she saw a lion down by the water while walking back to the room.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Burn Out

Today was goodbye to Luangwa River Lodge and a travel day to Chobe Game Lodge in Botswana.

EMB 120 Brasilia / Zambian Airways / Mfuwe to Lusaka
EMB 120 Brasilia / Zambian Airways / Lusaka to Livingston

Yes it was the same plane, the same seat, even. But we had to deplane, collect our luggage, walk to the next room, go through the x-ray again, check in the luggage and board. Even the x-ray guy thought it was crazy.

Boarding at Lusaka was interesting. A Japanese family of five with two little kids were entirely upset when told that it was free seating and that the numbers on their boarding pass could be ignored. Dad and Granddad angrily and even violently harassed the little flight attendant until she went and made the other passengers move to other seats so the Japanese could have their appropriate seats. Everyone else seemed a little amused at the noise. I was just glad someone else had taken the Ugly Foreigner title and made the Americans look civilized. The event could have been handled much nicer with just a tiny bit of politeness. I've seen flight attendants work wonders just to make family seating happen, without any such disturbance.

We were met with the guy holding the sign "Melton X 2" and he drove us through Livingstone, giving us the tour guide's commentary, reassuring us that the unemployment in the 80% from after the textile mills failure was much better now at 50-60%. Unfortunately, the town did show signs of hard times, but he was obviously proud of the place. We drove across country toward the Zambezi River, checking out of Zambia and taking a water taxi across to Botswana, seeing a couple of hippos along the way. Once on the safari vehicle, we waited for some time, as the driver expected two more tourists, who never showed. After checking in through customs, and having our shoes disinfected for hoof-and-mouth disease, we drove on to the Chobe National Park and finally reached our hotel. Mary Ann immediately headed out for a boat tour, but I collapsed. What with non-stop activities for many days now, plus hours in the heat without water, I was suffering from a minor burn-out.

I enjoyed sitting in the air-conditioned room, raiding the mini-fridge for all the diet coke it carried (called Coca Cola Light here). I sat out on the back porch when I was cooled down and hydrated and was greeted by a bushbuck grazing on the manicured lawn. I may just rest here a while.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Land Rovers and Ingenuity

Being a Jeep driver, I was interested in the Landrovers that are the universal vehicle out here. I am informed by the owner/manager here that Landrovers (English) and Landcruisers (Toyota) are the only vehicles that need apply, if for no other reason that it's impossible to get parts for anything else. The ones here at camp look like they've been in use daily for decades, driving over rough dirt roads. And in the case of this camp, they've also been submerged in the flood that happened last rainy season.

That doesn't mean they're perfectly reliable. His formula was that the Landrovers break down ten times as often, but the parts for the Landcruisers cost ten times as much.

Thursday's drive ended about 800 feet from the camp, at the base of the last incline, when Mary Ann asked James to stop so she could take pictures of the elephants that had crossed the river at the same time we did, and wanted to take the same ramp up to the top of the cliff. The Landrover wouldn't start. Dead battery (new one day) because of a short in the winch circuitry. We walked the rest of the way, avoiding the elephants.

Friday night's drive was entertaining. The gas pedal cable snapped. James worked under the hood and fished the cable out and tied it to a large socket wrench. Leverage across the dash gave him a very serviceable hand throttle. The rest of the night drive proceeded as normal.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sitting Safari

The one truth I am coming to realize is that a trip to Africa like this one consists of sitting. We sit in the plane for long hours. We sit in the airport between flights. And once at the Safari camp, we sit, like maharajas on elephants, on the top of the seating platforms on these Landrovers as we wind our way along the dirt roads that travel through the park. There are rules here. You don't leave the vehicle, except in certain circumstances like the Sundowners or during the walking trips with heavily armed guards. The lions don't eat you when you're in the vehicle, even when you drive up to within ten feet of them.

But after the long day, you return to camp and sit around the veranda with your drinks and talk. Until dinner time, when you sit around the table and talk. One thing for sure; weak legs are no reason not to come on safari.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Persistence

As soon as I'm able, I'll post a video I took at the end of a long day. Update: Here it is:


The schedule here is a wake-up call at 5:15, (since there's no telephone, a wake-up call consists of a guard saying hello outside the window in progressively louder tones until we answer) followed by breakfast and the day's activities. We started out with a walk. This consisted of a 5 mile drive out into the bush, followed by a walk escorted by a guide with a .427 rifle and our regular guide, James.

After returning and having lunch, I took a nap. I needed it desperately. At about 3:30 we climbed back onto the Landrover and drove to a sunset spot. A regular feature of safari no matter which place we were at was "Sundowners". We find a scenic spot, the guide pulls out the ice chest and sets the table with snacks and drinks. They're generally prepared with whatever kind of drink you favor, but sometimes my diet coke strains their inventory.

After Sundowners begins the night drive. An assistant sweeps the terrain with a high powered spotlight, looking for nocturnal animals like civets and leopards. I'm not going to try to detail all the animals we saw, because Mary Ann is likely to do that in her blog and my memory isn't that good.

But after the drive was nearly over and we prepared to ford the river to get back to camp. But then there was a cry of a cape buffalo in distress. James turned around and drove toward the cry. As we approached, a massive herd of buffalo came streaming up, away from the river. We drove down to the water's edge and the spotlight showed the sight. A crocodile had its jaws clamped on the leg of a cape buffalo calf. It was calling in distress, but couldn't pull free. Neither was the croc powerful enough to drag him under.

We watched, as the struggles continued. Each time the calf tried to make another effort, he ended up farther into the water. A couple of times his snout went under, but he managed to keep his head high enough to breathe. Other crocs circled, but just waited for the outcome. The cape buffalo mother on shore tried to help, but there was nothing she could do until the hyenas began circling. They had heard the distress calls too and were anxious to see if they could get in on the kill. But the cape buffalo horns are not to be despised, and they were kept at bay.

The guide was rooting for the calf, although it was plainly hopeless. Our fellow tourist was rooting for the croc. But it was just a matter of time.

Then, as the calf was nearly deep enough to lose its air supply and drown, there was a splash as the croc tried to shift its grip from the leg to the calf's neck. The calf jerked free and struggled ashore, if with a damaged leg. The herd was there, surrounding him, keeping the hyena's away. Everywhere you looked, there were fierce cape buffalo horns ready to defend the calf, now in the middle of the herd.

The crocodile swam away still hungry. The calf who struggled and did not give up even when it was plainly hopeless now has an opportunity to heal and survive. But those hyena will be watching, and waiting, as well.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

That's a Zebra Skin

We're waiting for lunch in the airport restaurant at Lusaka. We sorta made a mistake in our planning. We thought that our plane to Mfuwe was due to leave at 8 am. With that in mind we had the hotel wake us at 5:15 so we could catch the 6am shuttle to the airport. When we arrived, we learned that the plane actually was scheduled for 2:10 pm. So, we had a long wait in the airport lobby.

It hasn't been bad. There's lots of opportunities for people watching here, once I got over the currency shock. The ATM vended us K600,000 and a couple of cokes costs over K8000.

But, like I said, people watching is wonderful. We arrived early, and most of the people walking around were in military uniforms, and most of them were women. And I don't mean military-looking uniforms. They have the gunbelts and the boots and the berets. Some of them, a very few, carry what look to be old M-2 Carbines. I haven't gotten a good look to be sure.

But these are generally happy people. The girls in uniform were checking their hair and chatting happily.

And they all looked very pretty. It was amazing. These are a very handsome people. Even the guys, although I didn't pay too much attention to them. Our waiter looks very much like a younger Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Although I don't say much, the whole time has been spent talking to others in the airport lobby. In many ways it's like it used to be in the US, where large family groups would come and see relatives off as they left for their trip. The lobby seating area is outside the security checks, so everyone can come.

But now, we're having lunch, and I almost didn't recognize the zebra skin. In the US, that would have been a large plastic decal decorating the wall. This one is a real zebra skin.

A Spectacle Comes to Mfuwe

The plane from Lusaka was an hour late, and if they hadn't waited for the handful of people that arrived late from Livingstone, we would have been the only passengers.

Raytheon Beech 1900D / Zambian Airways / Lusaka, Zambia to Mfuwe, Zambia

It was a twin prop plane for the short hop, and even Mary Ann's camera case had to be stowed in the hold. It was tight quarters. But as the flight approached our destination, I realized I wasn't seeing any buildings. Then I realized that thing I thought was a tent was actually a thatched roof. When we walked off our plane, Robert from the lodge was waiting. We climbed the ladder up onto the seats in the safari-converted Landrover and began the drive through Mfuwe (mmm-fooey) to the national park.

Right off the bat, people were waving and calling. Mary Ann tried to keep up with waving back, especially at the children. I began noticing something different. Children twelve and under were shocked and amazed to see me. Boys would stop in their tracks, jaws hanging open. One teenage girl was startled as if she'd seen a monster. One boy's gestured clued me in. It was the beard.

These people do grow beards, but thin ones. They'd never seen anything like me, in full santa mode. Twice we stopped in town while Robert tried to find a phone to make contact with the base to see if he should take me to the camp or try to connect us with James, who was already taking people out on a night drive. As the people clustered around us, watching the spectacle, I smiled back. I began wondering whether I had mistaken how I should look in this part of Africa. But I'm not likely to cut it short now.

I'll just smile and wave.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Lusaka Without Luggage

Today was a travel day.

Cessna 210/Scenic Air/Wolwedans to Windhoek
Boeing 737-800/South African Airways/ Windhoek, Namibia to Johannesburg, South Africa
Airbus 319-100/South African Airways/ Johannesburg to Lusaka, Zambia

Well, they warned us. The big duffel of clothes didn't arrive. Mary Ann has her cameras in carryon, and I had my laptop, so nothing critical is missing, other than creature comforts. It's been a week since I've had usable internet now. About five days since I've been able to check my email. Supposedly, there's wireless internet here, but I haven't been able to make it work. Once Mary Ann finishes, I'll give it another try.

Update: I'm piggybacking on Mary Ann's hotel wireless signal through the firewire cable. It's crude, but at least I got these posted.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Ostriches Outside the Tent

We've been at Wolwedans in Namibia for two days now, and not only is there no handy internet in our tent, there's no electricity, so use of the laptops has been sparing.

It's a nice camp. We're staying in a tent, on the sand dunes, but it's a very nice tent, built sturdily on a wooden decking platform, with a bathroom and shower just a dozen feet away. Everything is solar powered, from the hot water to the limited lighting. The bed is nice, and the interior of the tent has good headroom and is about the size of my bedroom at home. The decking outside faces the southeast and dawn is very inspiring.

Last night, the dinner was a three course meal with about 15 people. We had oryx steak, and they baked a birthday cake for the teenager from Italy. They say Americans are rare here. Most of their tourists come down from Europe.

We're just back from an all day drive around the camp, seeing lots of animals I didn't even know existed. John, our tour guide, is relatively new at the game, with his head in the reference books, but he's college educated and quite honest about the things he doesn't know.

We fly out in the morning, but supper is just a couple of hours away. I wonder what we'll have this time. Until then, I'll sit out on the lounge chair and watch the pair of ostriches that are grazing just off in the distance.