A few weeks ago our family went on a three day holiday to Nyala Lodge. It was the kids’ mid-term break. They had a week off, so we decided to spend some of the time with the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM), taking part in their annual Game Count. We stayed at a lodge inside Lengwe National Park for the weekend and traded off and on with other wildlife enthusiasts to spend 3 hours in various hides counting certain animals (antelope species) that came to the waterholes.
At this point you may be thinking that this sounds exotic and exciting. In some ways it was. We loaded everybody into our big, old, diesel beast and drove south through small villages and sugar cane plantations until we arrived hungry and ready for dinner. This is where the exotic and exciting part starts to unravel: the power was off at the lodge, everything I tried ordering for Wild Child and C-C was unavailable, and our waiter kept coming back from the kitchen to explain why he couldn’t fulfill our order. Well after C-C’s bedtime a generator was turned on (only for the kitchen) and we had some dinner. For the remainder of the weekend we had intermittent power, the kitchen ran out of cheese, there were holes in our mosquito nets, and the toilet in our room didn’t flush properly. The bed sheets were nice, and the staff were very friendly.
For the girls, the animals in Lengwe were a little underwhelming. Many, many animals continue to be poached in Lengwe National Park. Apparently some parks in Malawi, such as Majete National Park, are doing very well, but for the most part the animals in Malawi’s National Parks are not well protected. Bird Boy, however, had a great weekend. He woke up at the break of dawn every morning and went off (with a backpack filled with bird books and binoculars) to sit in a hide. After a late breakfast, he went back again. He saw crested guinea fowl twice. A Malawian guide and birder—who has seen over 600 species of bird in Malawi, but never the crested guinea fowl—was there and was so jealous because he didn’t get to see any. Bird Boy also saw buffalo, nyala, bushbuck, Livingstone’s suni, duiker, impala, blue monkeys, yellow baboons, a serval, a large snake (probably a python) and several bird species and hung out with many knowledgeable and like-minded people who were interested in helping him to see and learn as much as he could.
There were other positives: we watched monkeys, birds, and antelope while we ate our meals outside on the konde (porch). The girls swam in the lodge’s little pool all weekend and also visited a hide and saw some animals. They didn’t see lions, leopards, giraffes, zebras or elephants, but they saw two nyala males do a dance on tiptoe around each other at a waterhole. When we first arrived, Wild Child was disappointed. We had some tough moments, but in the end she had a good weekend.
I’m writing this outside in our backyard (which Malawians call the “garden”) on a hot, sunny day surrounded by flowers and trees bursting with fragrant blossoms. Back in BC it is rainy and cool. I am thankful to be in Malawi, and in many ways it is a beautiful and hopeful place. But being at Nyala Lodge made me think about the disappointments of living in Malawi. So often I hear that things used to be better. Just five years ago the electricity was much more reliable. And only a decade or so ago the mountains were filled with trees. Now they are mostly bare. The National Parks had more animals. The Malawian kwacha was worth much more. In comparison to the US dollar, its value is less than half what it was 5 years ago and people have fallen deeper into poverty. It’s easy to feel depressed living in a country like Malawi. How can I find hope? I can’t bring the animals back or re-forest Malawi, and I can’t bring a country out of poverty. But I know that if I am listening to God and drawing on his strength and his hope, I will do much more than on my own. And that if I ask him, he will do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine. I will strive to be guided by God and his love. I look forward to figuring out how I can bring some of God’s hope in a place where many things, so I’m told, used to be better.
UPDATE: A brief discussion on Facebook prompted this follow up