THE NYIKA TIMES

THE CASE OF THE MISSING BEER

We experienced an amusing little incident, a few day’s after our arrival, when Geoff and Michael decided a nice cold beer was a good idea. As we have limited electricity and no fridge,Geoff was keeping a few bottles of beer in the stream to keep cool. When they collected the beers, they realized, the lids had been tampered with, although the bottles looked full,being brave and(rather foolish) they took a swig,realizing very quickly that the Carlsberg’s had turned into pond water…..nice!

Clearly a thief was at large!

So they decided to play a little trick on “the suspect” and filled the bottles up with diluted washing-up liquid, painstakingly crimping and replacing the lids, then putting them back in the stream. It only took the next day to catch the pesky villain, an initial sighting by Patsy, and then Michael,who spotted him having returned to the scene of the crime, followed by a couple of photo’s from Geoff,who then confronted “the suspect” who, after a moments hesitation fessed up and apologised, the judicial panel of the Nyika High Court,decided to deduct the costs in three monthly instalments, after a good rollicking from Geoff. The daft thing was ,had he just taken the odd bottle no-one would probably have noticed, but putting back opened bottles full of pond water is not really the work of a criminal mastermind !

A further incident was discovered when G&P returned to the house a week later this time the gin had been replaced by water. Suspect tried again – fessed up to being drunk the previous two days before they returned. demoted back to casual labour gang. Cant believe he was that stupid

THE X FACTOR – MALAWI STYLE

Yesterday was a bit of an eye opener,when we were asked to assist in recruiting a team of builders and casual workers for one of the new projects at Thazima, which is located at the entrance gate to Nyika. Split into two panels of judges, Michae l& Sam and Heatherwick plus ANO who shall remain nameless – see below, interviewing the builders/carpenters etc and Patsy and Geoffand Peter Waddi ( Park Manager with local knowledge)  dealing with security and casual workers.

They certainly had their work cut out, with over 100 applicants for approximately 30 positions, not helped by the fact that several were drunk including Mike and Sams fellow panel member, not to mention the guy who changed his name and clothes and came back for a second shot, hoping no-one would notice. One hadn’t had any experience since 1968 and another who wanted a foreman’s position,but had only worked briefly in a sugar factory about 6 years ago he claimed ( when he was about 8 years old it seems!!) ,with no building knowledge whatsoever. That said, they found some very good ones too,with lots of potential including quite a few women,with nobody batting an eyelid ( odd in a very paternalistic society), which in itself is quite promising (though not that surprising given that they generally seem to do ALL the work anyway)

It was just like the out takes of X factor and whats more we have more interviews to do for other projects – can’t wait!!

NYIKA LIFE

Having now spent a week, holding the fort, doing simple and some not so simple tasks, learning everyone’s names, there are so many to remember, it’s been enjoyable, amusing and frustrating in equal measures.

It’s important to know where all the different villages are and which guy’s live where, so we went on a trip to Gamba to drop off some of the workers on their two week leave. An early morning start, with Yobe driving the pick-up,us in the front, several bodies in the back, including two ladies (one called Emma ) several sacks of assorted goods , a bed ,a few doors and other bits and pieces, fully loaded off we went.

Loading for the Gamba drop off

Loading for the Gamba drop off

The scenery and views on route were spectacular, passing by Chisanga Falls, some dense areas of forest and a few animals to look at, mainly Zebra,Reed-buck, Eland and Baboons, at times we were virtually in Zambia and to say say it was remote would be a bit of an understatement. The road is appalling and we sympathised with the guys in the back being thrown around, though they seemed to be in good spirits. After a couple of hours we reached Gamba Village, a farming community, with pretty little thatched huts and nicely kept gardens full of flowers. Stopping every few minutes to drop each one off, at their houses. So cute to see all the little children running up to greet their Daddies as they piled out of the pick-up with all their wears and tears.

Chisanga falls near Zambia border

Chisanga falls near Zambia border

Soon, when the pick-up was virtually empty, we turned around to come back again, collecting yet more people, Yobe, the driver had to refuse many people a lift, due to the heavy load, as by now we had picked up several sacks of maize and other goods until we were once again full. To top it all off the heavens opened. Only a few on board had waterproofs ,but most did not, we gave them our coats, but soon they were sodden,in the downpour, we skidded about a fair bit, venturing up the steep, washed-out mountainside, finally reaching our destination, despite the fact we’d done nothing much, (just witnessing African chaos at it’s finest) we were exhausted, although the guys in the back who were soaked remained as cheery as ever.

 

(We are loving the fact “cowboy builders” are in fact called “bush builders “ here !!)

Another Trip a few days later to drop off some of the Phoka gang who live on the east side of the park Once the original inhabitants of the Park they were kicked out in the 70s when the park took its present form. there is some positive discrimination to try to help them with employment etc which is good although not very cost efficent. After we dropped them off at the egdge of the rift valley excarpment – very cold and misty but it is about 8000ft up they had a 2 hour walk down to their village.

Denhams Bustaed -huge

Denhams Bustaed -huge

Two of them are metal workers – an ancient tradition amongst their ancestors so i am going to make some tools using scrap coil springs etc. Also i want a traditional bow and arrow which caused some alarm when i asked – they think they will be had for poaching, i assured them i would clear it with the park manager..

 

MZUZU and VWAZA

Our visa’s and car insurance had run out, so made a trip to Mzuzu for extensions, car fully laden with bodies, luggage and empty fuel drums on the roof to fill up in town. We told those wanting lifts we were leaving promptly (English not African time) at 8:00am, with the drive being 4 hrs away, but, typically when leaving, several employees decided they needed paying right now as they had no money, because they had failed to turn up on pay-day the previous Thursday and as we would be at Vwaza for a few days, we were left with no choice, other than getting the books and cash out once more,obviously this took some time and what with someone losing their keys , adding an employees sick wife, another’s young son, we finally got going! (African time wins!)

After stocking up with goods, headed back to Vwaza. It was great to see all our friends back there, who seemed surprised,but happy that we’d come back. We had a few photo’s of them which we’d printed out in South Africa and they were delighted with these. Everyone seemed well apart from the lovely old boy Pattison (night watchman) whose apparently been sick for the last month.

Didn’t see so many Elephants around this time although a big grumpy bull walked past not long after our arrival, but plenty of grunting Hippo’s and Lake Kuzuni as beautiful as ever but even though they haven’t had much rain this year,it was looking much fuller and the land much greener and bushier, than it was last September/October.

Big croc - new neighbour

Big croc – new neighbour

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Michael went to investigate the state of the roads in the park and make some decisions with the other guys as to what to repair first! I remained at the lake, cooking a bit pot of stew on the open fire,and watching the Hippo doing their thing, with much yawning, grunting and other windy noises going on!

Michael reported back, the roads apparently, were impassable since our visit last year, it was like driving through a green sea about 3 metres high, not helped by thousands of Tsetse fly (horsefly’s) so they cut the inspection short and will have to rely on the information we got last time.

Works will start with two gangs of guys cutting short the vegetation by hand, before grading, bridge building etc can take place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nyika

As we are going to be here some time the blog is likely to be a commentary on goings on so we thought it might be useful to list the main players so far. so many people to meet remember names of etc its going  to be a slow process!!

A quick note on who’s who at Nyika

Nellie works in the house cooking, cleaning, looking after fires etc

Knox does accounts for NVT working in the house at the moment until we get the batteries solar panels etc at which point we will work from the main office about half a mile away.

Sam Banda works on the world bank project, an engineer but acts like a building surveyor he and Michael are quite similar in many respects

Patson Simkoko is the park manager at Chelinda – effectivly controls all local matters

Peter Waddi is Pastons boss based at the main park office at Thazima (near park Entrance about 2 hours away on the way to Mzuzu

Blessings looks after stores, welfare of the workers, keeps log of hours worked etc and does pay with Emma.Also in charge of the controlled burns

Yobe and Joseph are the 2 drivers, who also sort out other stuff.

Baxter is the mechanic, in charge of Joseph& Yobe he also drives the tractor/ grader for road works

Alvin is the foreman in charge of one of the work gangs

The others we will fill in later as we get to meet/remember!!! who does what.

 

MALAWI AGAIN

 

On the road back to Blantyre, going up extremely steep hill/mountain, a horrible noise from gear box( later found to be transfer box) ensued, we slowly ascended at 10 mph in first gear and occasionally second,anything else resulted in hideous noises and as per usual phones refused to connect so we had no choice really other than continue this way for 20 k.

Made it thankfully and found a new home for The Beast,in a fairly major garage. The guys here needed to remove the gear box and give it a thorough once over, which would take a day or so, given their findings, so we stuffed a few belongings into a rucksack and went in search of a bed for the night.

Found an excellent little Lodge in the centre of Blantyre,run by “Macky”a very helpful guy, who originated from Cameroon. Although car-less once more, we had a nice little room,good food and plenty of interesting people coming and going. We also had heaps of e-mails etc to respond to,so with excellent internet connection there, we had arrived at a good place. This became our home for a week,whilst The Landy was in for a bit more TLC, nothing too major,other than a few general repairs,relating to having done 55,000 miles in the last year on some of the worst roads on the planet, not unexpected really. In actual fact it’s exactly a year today since we left Plymouth on that cold,rainy night. How quickly time has flown !

Travelled North heading for Nyika, stopping off in Senga Bay and Makuzi Beach, where we’ve, stayed before , peaceful and relaxing,as ever and good to meet up with the ever helpful owners, Richard and Lauren. The weather was lovely and hot, after several days of rain previously. Lake Malawi (Nyasa) is great for swimming,with many little fish, nibbling your toes,not surprising,our toes must be a real tasty treat!

At night,under starry skies, the Fruit bats were swooping and the Tree Frogs and Cicadas, croaking and chirping, culminating in a fantastically loud noise,it really was quite impressive. We saw a young bright green Boomslang(snake) which quickly slithered into the bushes,when Michael went for a closer inspection. He was hoping to see more in Africa, but I’m cool with things the way they are!

Mukuzi beach

Mukuzi beach

 

Fish Eagles here were flying overhead , always impressive, Michael saw one swoop down and hit the water, though it didn’t catch anything.

Travelled on up to Mzuzu, collecting a Maize Mill engine in town, for The Chelinda Women’s Co-operative, which is a long awaited replacement for the ladies up on Nyika. We arrived at the haulage company,re-arranging the Land-rover to accommodate the rather large and extremely heavy piece of equipment. It took six strong guy’s to hump it into the back of the Landy.

Having put more air into the tyres(we were seriously weighed down) and had a bite to eat at the Matunkha Orphanage,we set off on the long slow slog up to Nyika Plateau. The roads were bad in parts and we went at a snail’s pace, due to the machine on board. We had been warned about wash-out’s etc,so it came as no surprise to still be on the bumpy, slippery road four hours later.(though it’s only 120k)

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With darkness falling and only 20k left to go we found the road blocked by a logging lorry, who had jack-knifed into the ditch. A couple of guy’s who recognised us from Wilderness Safari’s, were also blocked and wanting to borrow shovels,thankfully we were able to oblige and half an hour later we were on our way again. It never ceases to amaze us, no matter how many times they get stuck, they just get on with the job in hand, without complaint,even, if it means spending the night there.

stuck lorry dug a bypass with guys from tourist camp

stuck lorry dug a bypass with guys from tourist camp

Arrived at 7:00 pm, to be greeted by Patsy&Geoff, a log fire and chicken stew, just what was needed. Caught up on the local goings on and fell into bed- yes a proper bed, complete with hot water bottle……..nice

As you may have gathered,it’s a lot colder up on Nyika and we’ve exchanged our shorts and T-shirts for fleeces and jeans again and although sunny by day, it gets quite nippy at night, at least we don’t have to worry about mosquitoes up here, as we are 2,000 -3,000 m above sea-level.

The Ladies were delighted with the long awaited maize mill, which took several more strong men to lift out of the car, all that was needed now was some assembling.

The boy’s mounted the engine the following day and summoned Michael to help out with the none too clear instructions, but before too long it was up and running ,the ladies celebrated with much merriment, dancing,cheering and singing, with all the little kids joining in too. So nice to see their smiling faces, for what is really a basic requirement, being so cut off here. We got far too much credit for this,when in fact all we did was deliver it. The real hard work was actually down to Chris Walker,Patsy and Geoff.

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After all this,there is a serious maize shortage and the price has trebled since last Autumn, everyone knew this was coming ,but the government failed to get it’s act together with distribution and as a result everybody is suffering,but it’s hopeful there will be another harvest shortly.