Malawian food basically consists of Nsima as we have mentioned before, the local name for the Southern African staple which is cooked Maize flour. Our guy’s here eat it in ridiculous quantities, today lunch for twenty was cooked in half a 45 gallon oil drum filled to the top. Bear in mind these are small guy’s, although extremely fit and strong. Nsima is eaten with what is known as “relish”, this is usually “greens,” a spinachy, oniony, tomatoey and every thingy mix and usually a protein, which here, because of location may consist of Kapenta (dried fish) or soya, also cooked with an oniony, tomatoey and everythingy mix,and or a mixed Bean variant. Michael dosen’t mind the Nsima but I find it pretty bland, anyhow a bit of a revelation for the man that hates pasta !! When in town however you can substitute Nsima for rice, still with beans and greens, which is delicious but a bit windy making!
Red meat, four legs as Nellie likes to call it ,isn’t particularly liked, with many people saying they are allergic to it and come out in a rash, so it’s avoided by many people, wheather this is true or just folklore who knows. We buy our supplies from The Halal butcher in Mzuzu and it seems pretty good to us. Making sure we get plenty to freeze for when we get to Nyika, as this has to last us for three/four weeks.
Alot of people here seems to suffer from headaches, we think the most likely cause, dehydration, the fact that we are extremely high at eight thousand five hundred feet and the fact they simply don’t drink enough or indeed anything other than tea or “sachets”
Malawian tea is very good (as is the coffee) tea is preferred as it is the most affordable, therefore the favourite in rural areas, the local style seems to be lots of sugar, four teaspoons being quite normal.
Theres a big drinking problem here involving various firewaters usually sold in sachets. Sachet’s, which are plastic….well…. sachet’s filled with said firewater, these are sold by “the brick” which is cigarette carton in size, branded with the strangest names, unfortunately Malawians and alcohol don’t seem to mix paticularly well, whilst most don’t drink much, if at all, a substantial minoriy in rural areas indulge heavily resulting in some of the most bizarre behaviour you’ve ever seen! Normally drunks just slump, but here they reel about with limbs flailing, like a dying insect. They do some very stupid things, whilst inebriated, most of which though they will happily confess to when sobre.
Sugar seems to be a very expensive commodity,but is an absolute essential. Strangely, Nyika is famous for it’s honey/bee-keeping industry, but nobody seems to use it, recently sugar was selling at MK 600 a bag, which is getting on for nearly twice the daily wage per person, yet still they buy it, therefore hard to understand why they don’t use honey(which we think is delicious)
Our friends The Pendereds, have ordered 100kg’s of the stuff, which we are delivering to them in Mzuzu in huge buckets, but travelling on some of the worst roads in Malawi…..something tells me things could get a bit sticky!
Sugar cane is now in season, sold on the roadside and appears to be a clear favourite. Fruit is a bit scarce right now, but Avocado’s are plentiful, enormous and very cheap.
Vegetables are good but a strange mix of English classics and African stuff, from potatoes, known here as Irish potatoes to distinguish them from sweet potatoes, of which there are several types, to Okra, cauliflower and everything else you can think of, not forgetting tomatoes everywhere. Cabbages, as mentioned before are common-place, along with Rape, mustard, spinach and the like.
Cooking here is basically done on an open fire, we have a wood burning stove, which needs crazy quantities of local pine fed into it. Luckily we have 9sq kilometres to get through, so not really a problem!
Saw our first Leopard on Nyika, could so easily of missed it,driving along about 5 miles from our house, something caught my eye on a huge rock,but likeso many times before when wev’e mistaken rocks/bushes for beasts I chose to ignore it.A split second later it moved, realising it was indeed a Leopard and with much rummaging around for the camera, we stopped to admire it. Such beautiful creatures, so well camouflaged and luckily for us posed nicely, before leaping onto another rock,dissappearing into the distance …another special moment and although our sixth Leopard we’ve seen, it was just too cool for words!
(study the photo carefully, amazingly camouflaged)
As we travelled back up to Nyika last weekend having been alerted to the first “Wildfire” of the season around Lake Kaulime, the only natural Lake on Nyika (a forest has started to regenerate around it in the last fourty years)
Unfortunately it was probably”friendly-fire”as opposed to a proper wildfire. Our guy’s reacted very quickly, spotting the smoke early the following morning and not only put the fire out but burnt a protective firebreak around the nearby Zovo Chipolo Forest. The following day was a quiet burning day and on The Monday we started in earnest. We burnt a potective firebreak around the Chelinda Pine Plantation, with theguys burning about 7 miles by 100 yards
The technique, and the guys are very cool and calm about this, is for one guy to walk along with a special torch invented by one of our predessesors starting what is a small back burn along the edge of a road or firebreak track, when this has burned a bit the second guy lights another fire 50 metres parellel to the back burn, keeping 50 metres behind the back burn guy. The fire ebbs and flows, the smoke is tremendous and the heat intense,yet the whole thing rolls on with great speed, we are supposed to be in charge, but can only stand back and with streaming eyes,looking on in complete admiration.
This is what’s known as the “Early Burn”
Being English a blog wouldn’t be a blog without mentioning the weather even in Africa! Having had a permanent summer for over a year now(I know your hearts are bleeding) we now find ourselves in a most extraordinary place weatherwise. This is the cold season and it can get VERY cold. Were talking chilly English spring, but the variation is huge. The other day it went from 28c to 0.5c about eight hours later,there can also be sharp air frosts, which have killed off our tender vegetables, just like the UK. However the record low is minus 10 which is pretty cold even in Europe, never mind somewhere not far south of the equator.It’s strange ,outside the air is fresh and cold, but the sun is still very strong and intense that it bakes your head!
The effect of all this is the grass and vegetation gets killed off and dries out very quickly over the next month or so and the risk of wildfires increases, hence the panic to get in the “Early Burn” fire breaks as mentioned previously. Strangely all the animals love the burn and move onto the burnt areas immediately, this seems to be for a combination of reasons, some seem to like a bit of ash , it obviously helps in reducing the risk of predation and others are simply awaiting the re-growth which happens very quickly.
Talking about fire, I have to mention Nellie,the Housekeeper, who at 5ft and fairly small, Michael loves to tell me she’s half my size,(thanks for that dear) but would eat Arni for breakfast.As strong as an Ox, she can be found carrying a log on each shoulder,up to 6ft long and 8/10 inches in diameter – that’s local logs sizes, here you just get a large portion of tree. To light the evening fire, she goes to the outside boiler fire, grabs a burning log, throws it over her shoulder,and marches straight through the house in a trail of smoke and flame, then lobs it nonchalently into the fireplace, as if this were pefectly normal. Girls out there, we seriously have to up the ante !
We had been warned by our predeccesors about local customs, which here centre quite alot on women, who traditionally have a strong matriarchal role in society (the opposite apparently applies in Southern Malwi) One outcome of this, is that the son -in-law cannot look at, or speak to his mother-in-law directly and vice versa for daughter-in-law and Father-in-law. The problem here is that Rashid, the gardener turns out to be Nellie’s son- in- law, this came out when I suggested he helped Nellie to scrub the large living room rug. Nellie refused and said this wasn’t possible, which is when all this came out,we then asked what would happen at a family function and Nellie said you would simply ignore each other, although the senior of the relationship can address the junior, they cannot speak directly back…..but with a strange modern twist can leave the room to reply on the telephone!!
(Michael say’s he thinks alot of people would welcome extending this tradition!!)
Talking of Nellie,she arrived early this morning, as always,but with a baby about a year old (not hers) on her hip and looking very concerned. She told me the baby had sat down in a
heap of red hot ashes last night and had a horrible burn on his thigh and although he had howled at the time, he seemed in quite good spirits, apart from a quivering bottom lip, which I put down to the fact that all African babies seem to cry when they see me! I consulted my “Where there is no Doctor” medical book, making the decision to doing nothing, other than offer advice to it keep clean and dry,watch for infection and to take him to a Doctor at the Clinic or hospital, not so easily done here, when so far away from such an establishment and with no public transport as such. She seemed happy enough (I expect all those nurses amongst you are shaking your heads in disagreement) An hour later though, she re-appeared with an old tube of ointment,she must have had for a number of years, asking me to explain what it was and if she should apply some to the burn. Reading the faded writing I discovered it was for Piles, so simply pointed to my posterior and explained it was for bottoms and that it wouldn’t really help for baby’s burn and off she went once more. Hopefully baby “Bonniface” will get to a clinic soon and make a speedy recovery.
Whilst all this was taking place, Michael was having problems of his own, lack of Maize, a hungry workforce,the newly appointed mechanic calling to say he didnt want the job after all, a puncture on the tractor, all this and we hadn’t even had breakfast!!
Took a lovely scenic drive to Domwe view point, on the Zungara loop, driving along we stopped to take some photo’s of Aloes in full flower on a Granite rock (Tor if in Devon) whilst I was taking photo’s Michael, with binoculars spotted a huge mass of vulture’s on a kill across a small valley. Looking for the owner of the kill he finally spotted some suspicious brown shapes under a bush, hoping it might be a Lion or two, as this is the only place in the park your’e likely to see them as they come up from Zambia, in which part of the park actually lies. We have special dispensation to jump the border in this area, which is all a bit meaningless anyway as there is no border, control points, police, customs or indeed anything else official , we are simply beyond the reaches of officialdom for both countries!
Back to the Lions, no movement, so decided to come back later, drove on North to Domwe view point which is on the edge of the Western Rift escarpment, it was a hazy day and the photos don’t do the view justice, you are on one of the highest points in the park at eight thousand feet looking straight down into the Rift valley below and across the hills and mountains of Northern Zambia, stunning even in the haze that day. Looped back South again following the route of the previous weeks burn, the guys seem to have done a good job, with no damage to the forests. Went back to the kill took a few photo’s then retuned home. On zooming in although very fuzzy, several of them looked distinctively like a Lioness’s head, undecided, we went back the following to discover they hadn’t moved……oh well, you can’t win em all! We did spot a Side striped Jackal and a Civet,then homeward bound we were lucky enough to see a Night-jar, a weird and wonderful night bird Michael says, rare in England especially on open ground. A local speciality is the Pennant winged Night-jar which has ridiculously long feathers at the tips of it’s wings. (he just can’t resist a bit of name dropping)
Mike Rutter, manager of the Chelinda Zebra’s say’s he was gutted at his teams 3-1 defeat at Gamba.He said they played well but it it could have been 4-0 nobody knows for sure. He say’s his coach Bannet reported it was due to lack of fitness and the fact that for many players it was the first match of the season, however a well placed source within the team revealed that the defense was hopeless because they were so drunk they couldn’t stand up. We understand discussions are underway to strengthen their defence.
A Lion was spotted at the camp-site a kilometre away from our house yesterday, by some local women collecting firewood. Sightings are very rare here, but Paston( local park manager) says they come here about every two/three years, the last time being 2011 so maybe we’ll be in luck. At that time a large male apparently made several kills around Chelinda including a large Eland in our workshop, which made going to work the next morning a little different for some!
I think I mentioned the new mechanic we took on, texted us in the middle of the night to say he no longer wanted the job, the reason being he felt happier as a teacher of mechanic’s rather than actually working in the garage. We were slightly fed up, as we had spent alot of time interviewing him, explaining the whole set-up and how remote we are at Chelinda and he said he’d be fine with everything.It was slightly strange as the text wasn’t from his number, but when I texted him the next morning to confirm he was no longer interested, I didn’t hear anything else from him. Having arranged for another chap to come up for an interview, a few days later, we then get a call from the first one saying he is on his way up and ready to start work! It would appear, the text wasn’t from him, but a hoax caller, so naturally he’s a bit put out,but the latest one actually sounds the more experienced of the two and many people here know and like him. I do feel bad for the other guy, but we can’t waste anymore time, we desperately need a mechanic now. Chances are the second one won’t turn up either and we’ll be back to where we started…..Hey-Ho!
Nellie and Rashid had to attend a family funeral,I rather foolishly thought they would be gone for a day or two……four day’s later they re-appeared having had transport problems, they walked about 40 km, over extremely hilly terrain in the morning,before they finally found a lift for the last part of their journey, but Nellie was complaining of sore legs which comes as no surprise,although most people here walk huge distances and think nothing of it.
The Lion at the camp-site turned out to be a large Eland lying down, after an investigation by the scouts!
However Paston’s wife who should know better being the park manager’s wife, thought she saw a large dog at very close quarters and went home to report that a tourists dog had escaped, a quick ivestigation revealed she had in fact, had a close encounter with a Lion!
THE FIRE BRIGADE
Not only are we in charge of setting fire to the area here, we are also in charge of the Fire Brigade, which consists of our teams and volunteers from The Parks, The Lodge and The Forestry people. Today we had a training day organised by Michael, which was the basis of our Fire Brigade for the forthcoming fire season.
Talk about the blind leading the blind, how often do you come across the need to form a Fire Brigade, in the middle of nowhere,with no tools, equipment or water, it’s just not in the manual.
After the initial “training” and briefing talk, given by Michael and translated by Knox, the fifty man Brigade, some carrying rifles and other equipment plus us, all piled into our two very dilapidated pick-ups and headed off to “The BeaterShop” which is a patch of Euclyptus saplings, we stopped several bodies piled off each pick-up and slashed down great heaps of “Beaters” two metres long, these being are our only tools. Off we went to Dam 3, where the guy’s demonstrated how to do a controlled burn which we use to create firebreaks isolating an area, which we the fire brigade, then set fire to, so everyone could witness a wildfire……..then we, the fire brigade put it out. It’s a crazy old world here I tell you!!
On the way home, the guy’s had to rush off to investigate a real wild- fire and seemed happy they had it under control when they arrived back later that night. We all got up at 4:00 am this morning and drove out to make sure. It was so cold and misty, I’d have been surprised if it had still been roaring, luckily, though, there was no sign of fire, in fact due to the mist we lost the guys completely, but were rewarded with a stunning sunrise whilst driving home.