Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wildlife Photos

My apologies for taking such a long time to post these - the last couple of weeks has been rather hectic: I've revised my class materials and taught another R workshop, spent a couple of days kicking around Lilongwe getting some minor car repairs done, and all of us except Joel have been sick at least once since the safari. I think we're all on the mend at this point though!

Here at long last are the pictures we promised (culled from ~ 300 pictures I took) - we hope you enjoy them!

Hippo lounging in the Luangwa river in front of Thronicroft lodge. They make loud snorting noises at night - it sounded to me like they were about to sit on the tents!

African Fish Eagle - an amazing bird

The Thornicroft giraffe is a sub-species endemic to S. Luangwa

Lions resting after a meal

I really wanted to get both the oxpecker and the buffalo in focus, but didn't manage to. We saw lots of ox-peckers on the giraffes also.

This hippo had been lounging in the sand and got up and walked into the river just as we happened by

A group of elephants coming for a drink

More elephants

Zebras are fun to photograph

Giraffes have to work hard for a drink

Later in the day the whole pride of lions was sleeping and resting in the sun

Southern carmine bee-eaters basking in the morning sun

I could have spent hours photographing these birds - they are simply amazing!

We were a few minutes too late to watch this leopard drag the impala into the tree.

This leopard didn't get its kill into a tree fast enough, and was robbed by three hyenas.

A face only a mother could love.

Lilac breasted rollers were all over the place. In flight the wings show blue and purple.
I'm still trying to get a good photo of these birds - probably I need a longer lens than the 300mm.
Seeing all these incredible creatures was a real delight. Watching Joel and Emma be delighted by them was even more of a delight! All in all, it was a wonderful experience!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sept 13-16: On Safari!

For all the times Eric has been to Africa, he has never gone on a safari trip - he says he'd have felt too guilty doing that without the rest of us!  Now that we're all here, he decided he didn't have to wait any longer and booked a trip for us to Zambia with Land & Lakes Safari company.  All we had to do was show up at their office in Lilongwe with our bags packed.  They provided transportation to Thornicroft Lodge (hooray, we didn't have to drive ourselves!), just outside South Luangwa National Park, where all our meals were provided.  Not that we have anything against Malawi, but poaching has been so severe in Malawi's parks that the animal viewing isn't as impressive as in Zambia.  Zambia isn't as densely populated and so has not experienced the extent of deforestation and poaching that Malawi has.

After five hot dusty hours on the road plus a border crossing and a stop for a roadside picnic, we tumbled out of the van at Thornicroft Lodge - and just stared.  The lodge is perched on a bank above the Luangwa River.  Hippos and crocodiles were lazing in the river; warthogs, impalas, and pukus were grazing on the far side; a sandbar was covered with Egyptian Geese, Sacred Ibises, and Hadeda Ibises; vervet monkeys boldly moved across the lodge's lawn and trees; and shockingly red Southern Carmine Bee-eaters swooped overhead.  We just stood there looking and looking, until a staff member gently prodded us to come find the tents we were assigned to so everyone's luggage could be delivered to the right place. 

Thornicroft Lodge

One primate observing some others.  
See that bank on the right of the picture? It's a very steep riverbank, and if you go over the edge you might end up dinner for a crocodile!  Here in Zambia, no guard rails or safety fences to mess up the view.

Eric took this photo of the sunset from the lodge the first night, overlooking the Luangwa River.
Those dark things in the water are hippos.

My photo of sunrise from the lodge.  The blob right between the sun and its reflection is a hippo.
There are already some ibises on the sandbar.  (Hmm, think Eric's camera is better than mine?)

Joel acquired a taste for tea at Thornicroft.  


We explored the grounds until it was time to join the rest of the group for dinner: four Belgian medical students, and a recent college grad who's working at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Malawi for a few months, plus her parents from Boston.  The food there was fabulous - although a bit too heavy on kale and butternut squash for Emma's taste!

 What really impressed the kids were the little butter sculptures that accompanied the dinner rolls.

 Good thing the kids have so much practice at early rising - we had to be ready for a 6 a.m. departure for the park.  We all piled into two open-topped jeep things with three rows of passenger seats and headed out for the park.

The morning game drives lasted from 6 until about 10, with a stop for a tea break partway through.  

We all had a fantastic time on the game drives.  If the Belgians got tired of us stopping the jeep to look at birds, they were too polite to say!  (We did try to restrain ourselves somewhat.)  Joel really got into the birdwatching.  Emma had fun trying out my camera, especially on the pride of lions, and thought about her friends in Pennsylvania, wishing she could share the experience with them.

In the evenings we were out from 4 until 8, with another snack break at sundown.  After sundown the guides used spotlights to look for night life.  Dinner was served after we got back...poor Emma about fell asleep in her dinner rolls!

 In between the game drives we lazed around  - it was really hot!  (Well, most of us lazed around; Eric reviewed some manuscripts.)  Emma spent every minute she could in the swimming pool.  Joel took a break from catching frogs, skinks, and geckos now and then to join her.  (The pool is shaped like the country of Zambia.)

One tree frog hung out in the men's room.  When Joel caught it this is what happened:

Yes, that is the frog perched up there on his head.  In the background are the tents we stayed in, fitted out with twin beds and a light bulb.

Of course, there is a price to pay for missing two days of secondary school.  Joel's only verbal comment on the situation:  "I can't believe I'm on safari and I have to do homework!"  (The rest of the comments were groans and sighs.)

Monday morning we headed back for Malawi.  On the way we stopped at Tribal Textiles, where we saw how artisans make painted designs on textiles.  

Then we roamed through their showrooms, drinking in all the colors and patterns and wondering how on earth we'd decide what to buy!  Joel found a thumb piano and then went outside to catch a skink, which climbed up his arm and hid in his hair.  Emma agonized over the decision of which bag to buy until the last minute, when everyone else was heading back to the van..."They're all so beautiful!!" 

As we headed back into Lilongwe I realized just how welcome that little vacation had been, as I felt the weight of daily life return.  Finding a laundry lady who won't try to demand 5 times the going rate plus lunch, like the last one did, and who might even show up on time so I'm not late to get the kids from school.  Ants in the water filter, ants in the drinking glasses, ants on the bananas, ants everywhere.  The carpenters who, in six weeks, have only managed to install 2 window screens - they've made a lot of promises about when the rest will come, but still nothing.  What to make for dinner, and what's Plan B if the power goes off and I'm down to one burner.  (It was awfully nice having a chef in a white jacket make those decisions, and then make the dinners!)  Beggars, and the constant weight of not knowing what to do in the face of so much need.  ... But, on the other hand, it was nice to get back to our little house in Bunda.  It feels like home.

Eric was the official game drive photographer, so the next post of pictures from the safari will have to wait until  he goes through his photos.  In the meantime, here are some pictures taken by Emma:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Joel and Emma on Bishop Mackenzie International School

(This post was prompted by Joel and Emma's Aunt Susan sending some questions about their school.  Andrea asked the questions and typed while Joel and Emma talked, so this post is mostly their words, more or less.
I should also note that this school is NOT typical of schools in Malawi!  It's one of the best schools in the country...thank you, Fulbright Scholarship educational stipend!  Lilongwe is the capital city, so lots of people who work at the embassies send their kids here.  Public schools here aren't that great; there are often over 100 students per teacher in primary grades and very few materials.  Anyone who can afford to sends their children to private schools.  Emma's class is going to visit a public school next week during a class trip, and she's promised to do a blog post about what she sees.) 

Flags from many countries at BMIS.  Malawi's flag is the first one on the left.

At BMIS they call kindergarten Year 1.  Joel would be in 7th grade in the US but at BMIS he's in Year 8, and Emma is in Year 6 instead of 5th grade.

They have classmates from Ghana, South Africa, Cuba, Japan, Ireland, Britain, USA, India, Germany, Netherlands, Britain, India, and Malawi, plus a couple others that Joel can't remember.
The teachers are from all over too.  Emma's main teacher is from New Zealand but she taught in Thailand before coming here.  She also has teachers from India, Australia, USA, South Africa; Joel's teachers are from Ireland, Britain, South Africa, USA, some possibly some Eastern European country

Lots  of kids know different languages but everyone just speaks English at school.  Except for Mrs. Benson, Joel's maths teacher, who often says "Sibwino choncho" or "That is not good!"  Last year apparently her favorite phrase if you forgot your homework was "I will kill you slooowly!" in her very South African accent.  All the groundskeepers and custodians speak Chichewa to each other. 

It's not a boarding school, so the students don't live at the school.  Most of the kids are dropped off by their parents or a chauffeur.   Some bike and walk, but not very many.  There are some houses on one side of the grounds for teachers to live in.

They get picked up by us parents, but get dropped off by the Bunda bus.  The Bunda College of Agriculture has a bus they send in to the city of Lilongwe a couple times a day.  Some faculty live at Bunda and send their kids to school in the city on the bus; when the bus returns to Bunda it brings faculty and staff who live in the city.  Lots of college students use the bus too.  Joel and Emma have to be heading out the door at 5:45 a.m. to catch the bus!  There are other girls about Emma's age who ride the bus to a different school.  Joel wishes Emma and those girls would stop singing songs on the bus...he says they're very annoying.
Normally Bunda College uses one large bus but it broke down the second time we rode it, so now they use two small buses until the big one is fixed.  It's been more than a month...Emma thinks they must be trying to get repair parts from Mars!

There are lots of British words used at the school: tuck shop (where you buy food), maths instead of math, literacy instead of reading, queue instead of line up. 

The tuck shop has a couple of hot meal options to buy every day, but you can also buy soft drinks and candy.  They have international dishes as well as British and American foods, like hot dogs, steak and kidney pies, pizza which is pretty popular, spring rolls which Joel really likes, and noodles.  You can also get Malawian nsima and beans.  Nsima is like really stiff mashed potatoes but it's made from corn flour.  You grab it with your fingers and scoop up other food with it.  Joel says you're supposed to queue up at the tuck shop, but it's often "every man for himself."

The tuck shop - no walls or windows!

The queue to buy food at the tuck shop is a lot shorter after school than during breaks!

They wear uniforms to school, a white collared shirt with the BMIS logo and navy pants or skirts.  For physical education class, the "P.E. kit" is black or navy shorts and a BMIS P.E. shirt with no collar.  Don't forget your trainers (sneakers)!
It was the end of the day when we took this picture so maybe they were too tired to smile!

Soccer is huge here but it's called football. They also have something called netball, which is sort of like basketball but you can't dribble and run with the ball, you just have to pass it.

Classrooms don't look that different what they had in the US, except they're not connected by indoor hallways.  You have to go outside to  go between classrooms.  They have both seen geckos in several classrooms and we've both caught them.  But they've  never seen any other students catching geckos.  And once a pair of swallows got stuck in Joel's science class room and couldn't find their way out, so they just flew around the ceiling.  
A row of classrooms on the secondary school side of the grounds.

Joel thinks the lockers are too small to be much use, so he hasn't bought a key for one.

Joel's main classroom for homeroom - but his homeroom teacher is called his "form tutor" here.
Emma's classroom

Another different thing about the curriculum: Joel has drama class.  They have drama, music, and art each for a third of the year.  Joel takes Spanish and Emma has French class.  Joel misses tech ed (shop class) and family & consumer sciences (home ec) - they aren't taught here.  He does have a computer class, and "humanities" class which is geography and social studies.

Something else that's different is that the school doesn't have a band or orchestra.  We've been told it's really hard to get instruments here.  A few of the high school seniors have a rock band, but that's all there is.  In general there's a lot less interest in music here than in the schools we used to go to.  The entire secondary school choir is less than ten people, and Joel is the only boy!

There are after school and optional break-time (recess) activities.  Emma has choir at second break on Thursdays, Spanish dance after school on Thursdays, and karate on Mondays.  Joel has choir after school on Mondays, chess at break on Wednesday, and world drumming at break on Thursday.

One last detail: the school was named after a Church of England bishop who came to work in Malawi at the request of the famous Dr. Livingstone.  He opposed the slave traders who were devastating the area but he died after only a couple of years.  He was traveling by river and caught malaria, then their boat with all the medicines sank and he died.

And now for a few pictures of the school grounds, because they're really pretty with lots of flowering trees:

What's life like in Malawi?  The first thing Emma mentions is power and water outages!   We are writing this in the dark.  There have been a lot of outages the last couple weeks.  Joel says: life is nice here, and interesting.  We're amused by all the roadside vendors selling strawberries, silverware, puppies, live chickens, dried mice on a stick for a snack, and even Malawian and Zambian passports.  (Fake, we assume!)  Emma says: Life is really interesting here!  You never know what you're going to see on the bus ride to school.