PictureOur guest of honor, Mr. Samuel. photo: Kristina Low
JULY 14 to 20: This week was spent almost entirely at the Lodge and environs, with the exception of the 14th, when volunteer English teacher Trish and I went to Mala church for the service.  The service was unique in my experience in that the choir was not present.  This surprised me on one hand, but on the other it made sense since this is a school break and they had had a long rehearsal the day before.  This was the shortest service I have attended here yet: only one hour.  Once again I had to use my Nyanja for the typical introduce-yourself-as-a-newcomer portion of the service, but there was a unique twist this time: my first time as a translator into Nyanja for someone else!  Everyone seemed to understand me, so I guess I did all right.

My time at the lodge is punctuated by wildlife sightings and hikes to special places nearby.  It can be very strange working in an office from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon when one is in a place like this!  I find I do better if I get out for a couple of hours in the middle of the day; this gives me a chance to process what I have been doing and I don’t feel quite as bad about spending the rest of my daylight hours inside a building, no matter how nice the view.

Mr. Elias, who accompanied Mr. Joe and me to Luiga, wants to be a tour guide for guests.  He spent his time living in the wild during the years of the wars, so he knows a great deal about the local flora and fauna.  For his English lessons, Trish has been going on walks with him so he can practice his skills as a guide.  Sometimes they come back with a few leaves to brew into an herbal tea.  They are all tasty, but each has also had a medicinal purpose, too.  I can tell that fifty years from now, scientists will discover the medicinal value of plants here only to hear from a local resident, “Oh, my grandfather told us about that, but we never believed those old stories.”  It really is a shame there are not anthropologists and biologists here recording this knowledge gained from years of survival in the wild.  Much of this information is not being passed down to other generations for the practical reason that there is no longer any need for it in current day-to-day life.

One day, Trish came back from a walk with Elias and relayed the story that he had shown her a particularly interesting species of tree.  Wanting to have him engage in practice for times when guests might want more information, she asked how old the tree was.  He stood for a long time, looking it up and down.  Finally, he said “thirty-one years.”  Surprised by such a definitive answer, she prodded “are you sure it’s not just thirty?”  He then proceeded to explain to her exactly what markings on the tree told of its growth and how the good years alternated with the bad in such a way that he could count the age exactly by looking carefully at its trunk and branches.  I can only aspire to that level of oneness with my surroundings.

Still, my own meager sensibilities rejoice in what I can see and hear.  This week I have enjoyed seeing the African fish eagles fly directly overhead as the sun set at the beach.  I have laughed at the funny call of the hornbill, which sounds a bit like a cross between a grumpy cat and an old squeeze toy someone stepped on in the middle of the night.  At a secret beach area I have found a bit of a hike from the lodge, I have observed a crocodile lumber its way from a small pond that is rapidly drying up all the way to its usual nighttime home out in the lake. It makes this trek about every third night just at dusk, apparently alternating with some other secret daytime hideouts, where it feasts on the frogs that have come out to sing recently. 

And as annoying as they can be, one just can’t help but laugh at the antics of our troop of twenty or more vervet monkeys that come through every other day or so and try to steal any bit of food they can, including our breakfast rolls if we are not near them!  They have even been known to sneak into the office and lift the lid from the banana box, only to drop it with a clatter if they get discovered, running away with their scolding “eh, eh, eh, eh” – which they hate to hear said back to them.  I am glad I have videos and pictures of my little “friends.”  Secretly, I think we are all glad when they get a little something once in a while – as long as it is not the last roll or banana!

The famous lake flies have begun to make their annual appearance.  These tiny flies only a little bigger than gnats fly in giant swarms; later in the season they will be so thick as to actually appear as black clouds hovering over or near the lake.  They die each night, only to be replaced by the next batch.  They are a local delicacy; locals all around the lake eat them wrapped in steamed banana leaves.  I have to admit I am curious about that, but my dear wife told me before I left that she was so repulsed by the thought that if I tried it I might just as well stay here because she didn’t want to be kissing anyone who ate flies!  I guess that settles that.

On Friday we had a giant feast to commemorate Nkwichi’s first retirement.  Mr. Samuel, a day watchman here, has contributed enough into the Mozambican equivalent of Social Security that he is now able to draw a pension, although he or a friend or relative must take a trip into Lichinga every month to collect and cash the check, as there is no bank any closer than that. 

All the employees and volunteers gathered to honor him, complete with the laudatory speeches and good wishes that come at any retirement dinner.  He truly is a delightful man, and the others on staff clearly hold him in high esteem, as the crowd fell silent to hear his soft voice over the roar of the lake when he gave his thanks and advised everyone to work hard and work well.  Then the managers of the Lodge and two of us volunteers served the long line of employees looking forward to the feast.  The goat had come into the Lodge late, being an older and stubborn goat not so willing to come to a new place, so the food was not ready until 2:30.  This made those who had been working unloading more thatch from the boats extra hungry.  I don’t know how anybody can eat two loaves of nsima, let alone three, but there were several who did just that this day!  We had nsima and goat but also kampango, beans, cabbage, mchicha, and at the end, a sweet cake (there is no frosting here; cakes are very much like cornbread).  Really, if you substituted catfish for kampango (which it is anyway, just a special species unique to this area), mustard greens for mchicha and cornbread for the nsima, you would have had a standard feast from most parts of the American south!  There was laughter and boisterous talking and second helpings (and third helpings), and we had many pictures at the beach before the party broke up at the end of the workday.    
The staff of Nkwichi and volunteers of Manda Wilderness Community Trust. Photo: Lily Bunker


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