Published: December 8th 2011November 16th 2011
Lilongwe Wildlife Centre
Eating nsima lunch at the centre's restaurant.
I know you've all been waiting for this, so here it is - update number 3 on my amazing life in Africa!
Life here has been incredibly busy, especially in the past month. There have been a lot of ups and downs but in general, I love life here so much that the downs have been manageable.
There's a lot to say about the past couple of months, it's difficult to know where to start because I just want to explain about everything.
There's been a whole new group of volunteers who have arrived since I last wrote, at one stage there were 10 of us here, which is the most we've ever had since I arrived. It was nice to have so many other people around but it did get pretty hectic taking turns with the bathroom, showers and kitchen. And they all seemed to be early-risers, which didn't work so well for me and my hate for early mornings. We're now down to 6 volunteers, 1 from Denmark, 2 of us from Australia, 1 from Scotland and the other 2 from England. And we're all girls, which can sometimes be a good thing and sometimes a
Lilongwe Wildlife Centre
I'm taller than a hippo!
bad thing, but in general, it's a lot of fun with these girls.
I've been spending a lot more time with the other workers at the centre in this past month, the local Malawian workers and have been developing better friendships with a lot of them. I love them, they're all so friendly and welcoming and fun to be around. I often go down to where they're eating lunch just to hang out with them and they're always offering to share their nsima with me. That's another thing I love about people here – despite the fact that most of them have much, much less than me, they're always willing to share what they do have, even if it's just their time and energy.
One of the animal carers, Maggie, took a few of us volunteers shopping for chitenjes one weekend. A chitenje is the traditional skirt that women here wear, it's basically just 2 metres of material wrapped around to make a skirt. They also get used for dresses and baby carriers, as well as many other things. They're really versatile and also quite beautiful. All of us girls have been wanting to buy some of them
and get material to have clothes made out of so Maggie took us to a couple of markets to buy some material. It's a lot of fun going shopping and into town with someone who's local, it really helps me to see things from a different perspective and get a better insight into the city and its people. And I now have lots of beautiful chitenjes!
I haven't had the chance to have any excursions or trips away from Lilongwe recently because things have been much too busy here at the centre. I've been really wanting to go somewhere for a few days, especially because I'm owed 2 long weekends, but it just hasn't been possible. We were meant to go to the lake on the weekend but at the moment there is literally no petrol in Lilongwe, or probably in most of Malawi. The situation is getting really bad here because of the petrol crisis. Prices of everything are going up and it's just getting too expensive for most people to buy everyday items and to use public transport. I really hope the situation will be able to be resolved but I've heard people speaking about Malawi going
Musicians at the restaurant.
the way of Zimbabwe, in terms of economic difficulties. The Malawian kwacha is becoming worth less and less every day and I think there will be some difficult days ahead for the Malawian people.
It's really sad because Malawi is such a wonderful country and has actually been a very lucky country relative to many other African countries. It's managed to be relatively untouched by conflict, dictators and major disasters. The people here are so fantastic but now they're starting to be seriously affected by the mistakes and actions of their government. Crime is increasing in a previously very safe and peaceful country, simply because people are no longer able to afford basic things and are struggling to make ends meet.
Anyway, a few weeks ago we managed to get some petrol and I went on a day trip to Dedza with Vicky and Jo, my fellow Australian volunteer. Dedza's a town about 80km south of Lilongwe and is famous for its pottery and the nearby Chongoni rock art sites. It was a really nice trip, the scenery was quite mountainous and very different to around Lilongwe. And because it was mountainous, it was also cooler than in
Out for dinner for Francis' last night.
Lilongwe, where it has been averaging around 34-36 C every day for weeks now.
Our first stop was to the pottery factory, where we had lunch and then went and had a look at all the lovely things they make. I managed to restrain myself to buying only one mug because it seemed a little impractical to be buying pottery when I have to somehow get it back to Australia unbroken.
After the pottery factory, we headed off to see some of the rock art. The Chongoni rock art is UNESCO listed and is made up of 127 rock art sites, although only 5 are open to the public. The rock art is from between 2500BC and the 20th Century and was made by many different groups of people, including the Chewa and the Ngoni. To find one of the sites, we drove for ages down roads that had no signposts and were probably more suitable for a 4WD before we ended up at a dead end, with 3 paths to walk down. We had no idea if we were in the right place because there were large hills and rocks all over the place and many different
Sitting up the back of a minibus.
roads so we just started walking down one of the paths towards a rocky hill. Turns out we went the wrong way but when we got back to the car there was a lady there who took us the right way and we finally got to see some rock art! It was quite impressive and we were so relieved to actually have seen some of it after such a long search. If we hadn't found the rock art, we were just going to say that some red moss we saw growing on the rocks was rock art, just so we could trick ourselves and everyone else into thinking our trip wasn't a complete failure!
However, apart from this little excursion, I have been very much tied to the centre for many weeks now. One of the reasons for that is that we've had a huge influx of baby animals recently. In the past couple of months, we've had 3 baby baboons and one baby vervet monkey arrive, as well as the serval we already have, plus just recently, a couple of baby duikers, a crow, a baby hedgehog and an owl. The problem with baby primates is that they
Lilongwe Wildlife Centre
Chico and Yesaya creating an enrichment object for Bella.
need constant care and attention, literally 24/7 care. I helped out with the two baby baboons we got first and was a bit like their babysitter and was the first one to take care of them when they arrived. They're super cute and are just like brother and sister, playing together, fighting and stealing each other's things. There needed to be someone sleeping in the vet clinic every night to see to them if they woke up and started screaming, so I did that a few nights too.
Then we got Boo, a baby vervet monkey who also needed 24/7 care. When he first arrived we all thought he was incredibly ugly and strange-looking, a bit like an alien with a big triangle-shaped head, but it didn't take long until we'd all fallen in love with him. I also helped to look after him and luckily he was more independent than the baboons and didn't become so attached to certain people. He wasn't fussy, he would take attention and cuddles from anyone who'd give them to him!
The baboons and Boo are now with their surrogate mums so they only need regular feeding, which is much easier for
Lake of Stars
Sarah looking like a cool kid with two random guys.
everyone. We have another baby baboon though, called Amber who still needs 24/7 care but I haven't been involved with looking after her at all. The babies are wonderful to have the opportunity to look after but we've all been completely exhausted from looking after them and just look at each other in dread if Jasper (the animal care manager) ever walks towards us with a box in his hands!
Actually, just after writing that last paragraph, I spent almost a week helping out with looking after Amber. I really fell in love with her, she has the sweetest personality and became really attached to me, especially after I looked after her for 24 hours with no more than half an hour away from her. She's with her new surrogate mum now and it's luckily going really well.
I did have the chance to go to the Lake of Stars music festival that was held on the shores of Lake Malawi, near Mangochi. I headed down there with Sarah, a Scottish volunteer at the centre, and we camped at a beautiful lodge right on the lake. The festival was held over 3 days and it was like a
Lake of Stars
The Very Best
beach party combined with a music festival. There was some fantastic music at the festival and I discovered a few new bands that I really like. Combining the great music at night with a day spent chilling out on the beach, just sitting in the hammock, lying on the sand and swimming made for a great weekend!
From relaxation stress and extreme exhaustion - we had a Wild Kidz camp at the centre a couple of months ago. The camp was for kids from 4-12 year olds for 3 days, with them arriving at 8:30am and going home at 2pm. Jo and I ended up organising and running the camp almost all ourselves, which meant that things actually got done well and on time but it also meant that we were completely exhausted by the end of the camp. I didn't sleep for 3 nights because I was thinking about everything I needed to do the next day, nor eat lunch for 3 days because I didn't have time.
Despite all of the stress and exhaustion, it was a wonderful experience and I loved being with the kids, who were really cool. They were basically all expat kids
Lake of Stars
Sarah and me hanging out at the bar.
so they were from countries all around the world and spoke a heap of different languages. There was a little boy from Norway who couldn't speak any English so I took care of him and we had some great Norwegian/Swedish conversations. Who would've thought I'd be needing my Swedish in Africa?!
We did all sorts of cool things with the kids, such as boat making, puppet making, puppet shows, animal athletics championships, face painting, animal feeding, water fight and a picnic by the river. It was wonderful to have the chance to be around kids and to be allowed to play silly games with them. However, they were also amazingly worldly, intelligent and mature and I learnt a lot of things from them! As I always do from kids.
In terms of work, I've been getting quite involved in the centre's community work, which has been really interesting and I've learnt a lot. The centre's community work manager, Clement, returned from Germany a month ago and it's been great to work with him. It's a pity he wasn't here earlier because he's really nice, as well as someone who knows what needs to be done, how to do
Lake of Stars
A boat covered in cormorants.
it and how to actually get things done on time.
I came up with a few ideas of new projects that the communities we work with could begin and when Clement told the communities about the ideas they were all really keen on them, so we're working on getting the projects off the ground at the moment. The projects are all related to craft activities, such as crocheting objects out of plastic shopping bags and making bangles out of plastic bottles and material scraps. We've been making some example items to show the communities what we're talking about and it's been fun getting to spend afternoons crafting!
Other community work I've been involved in is helping to organise the graduation ceremony for one of the adult literacy classes. It was the funniest graduation I've ever been to – when else do you get to see politicians randomly getting up on stage to dance with the graduates?! We also went out into the community to observe one of the adult literacy classes, which was really interesting to see.
I really wish I had more time here so I could actually get stuck into big projects at the centre
Lake of Stars
The view from our lodge.
and make sure the projects I've been working on really get implemented and monitored well.
Unfortunately all of this work here has almost come to an end, as my official time at the centre is now up. All of the volunteers left the centre within a week of each other, which was very strange for the girl who was the last to leave, to be here by herself.
Just before we all left the centre, we had a big farewell party in our garden hut, where we had lunch with all of the animal carers, education team, community team and tour guides. It was a lot of fun to have everyone together - it was like they'd been our temporary family while we were here.
Now it's time for me to travel around and visit new and exciting places. I'm really looking forward to discovering Malawi but at the same time, I'm really going to miss the centre and its animals and workers!
There are more photos below