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After quite a long absence, Andrew the Vervet monkey made an appearance this morning. He looked rather skinny and hasn’t grown much over the winter. His fur looked patchy and rather thinning over his belly – probably mange or flees. No worries, after a few trips to the kitchen I will have him looking healthy and well fed again. I am so glad that he remembered me. He came bounding up with no fear – just as I remember him. He even let me scratch his little head whilst he sat contentedly munching on a bit of freshly baked bread roll.
The new water solar pump is at last installed and working a treat. The issue was forced after our back up diesel water pumps – the chumfers both packed up leaving us with no water at the lodge – just the acres of lake to look longingly at with no means to pump it up. A new wrought iron frame has been constructed in which to house the pump, which will hopefully deter the hippos and crocs from breaking it again. Once more the tanks are overflowing and the grass is getting a much needed watering. Slowly but surely it's turning green.
We had to sack Emmanuel today. He is one of our waiters and despite repeated warnings about being late for work or indeed not showing up at all for several days, his conduct or attendance did not improve and we were forced to make a decision to terminate his services. He seemed to take the news pretty well and it became obvious why later on when he came to the office to collect his final wages. He seriously thought that he was due some compensation for being sacked, but his confidence and smile soon disappeared when we informed him otherwise.
The staff communal insaka is coming along a treat. The walls have now been rendered and painted with lime wash inside to brighten it up and the outside will be finished off with a coating of coloured lime wash in some warm African colour. We have finally collected the last 80 bundles of grass to finish thatching the roof. Just in time really as the rains have started early this year. We have even put power in it and bought some chitengi which is African material to hang from the walls – just to add a little feminine touch I thought.
I saw a little green head poke out through the crack of the door frame in our house today. Upon further investigation I found it attached to a rather large green bush snake. The door through which his head was poking was the bedroom and when he saw me he quickly slithered off under the bed. I knew that sleep wouldn’t come easy knowing that there was a snake lurking beneath the bed so armed with my trusty broom I somehow managed to coax him out and into the lounge before finally persuading him out of the front door.
The gas ran out this morning, just as we were baking a batch of oat cookies. We have a very small 18kg reserve bottle but after that we are cooking on open fire. The bush oven is in a sorry state and that will be the next job, otherwise, we won’t be able to bake fresh bread. Probably time to start thinking about an electric cooker now that we are on mains power, which surprisingly seems fairly reliable except for Sunday when for no reason it went off at 8:30 in the morning and stayed off all day.
When we set off at 4am, in the morning for another shopping trip, the lake was beautiful and calm, like a shimmering mirror. May apprehension from the night before melted away as I made myself comfortable on the deck of our big wooden plank boat. My calm was soon to be cut short as we rounded the corner out of the bay and the wind starting howling. The lake soon turned into its familiar aggressive self and the boat was pounded by huge waves that breached the hull and flexed the boat so that the caulking started to detach itself.
It’s that time of day again - time to write my 100 words. What to write about today. What is normal for me seems a strange life to others. Having lived in the African bush for almost 3 years, everything is familiar and normal to me. The elephants, the monkeys, the snakes and the daily trials and tribulations of running a remote bush lodge. It will seem very strange to go back home next year to an easy life full of mod cons and oh shops that are close by with a huge variety of goods. How will I cope?
What is wrong with these people I ask myself. They have no sense of respect for animals or the livelihood of others who rely on wildlife in the park to bring in tourists and money to one of the poor corners of Zambia. I am talking about poachers. Just yesterday the scouts – for a change went on patrol and came back with at least 4 carcasses of Puku, cooking pots and 56 wire snares, which they seized from a poachers camp. Funny how they never actually manage to catch the poachers could it be that they don’t want to?
Another hot day again today. Everyday the temperature just seems to ramp up. The promise of dark clouds in the otherwise unblemished skies this morning held hope for rain, but yet again our hopes were dashed as the sun broke through and chased the clouds away. Everything you do takes such a monumental effort in this heat. Just walking down the road from our house at the far end of the lodge you feel as though you have lost several pounds only to replaced again by the copious amounts of water and liquid you have to drink to re-hydrate.
My daily conundrum is what to cook for supper. Choice is so limited here in Zambia. Fresh fruit and vegetables are at a premium. Imagine my joy when one of the workers wives showed up with 15 succulent and highly polished by the looks of things aubergines. My mind went into overdrive, what culinary delights could I possibly muster up from these welcomed vegetables. Moussaka, aubergine pate, fried aubergine, oh the list is endless. She wanted 6 pin for each (about $1.50) which I thought was a bit expensive so we settled on 5 pin which suited us both.
Today is the day that Emmanuel – the member of staff whose contract we terminated on Monday said he would be back Friday) in true Arnie fashion. I wander if he will bring along his brother for some muscle – if they have managed to reconcile their differences that is. This is the same brother who was sent to jail a few months back for battering his wife and for attacking the son of Emmanuel and more recently attacked Emmanuel’s family with a machete and Panga because Emmanuel owed him some money from over a year ago. They are nice family.
Following the recent haul of meat and various weapons and cooking utensils from the illegal poachers, we decided to hang part of one of the carcasses in a tree in an attempt to attract some of the lesser seen wildlife in the park such as hyena, wild dog or the illusive lion or other big cats, which we have heard from time to time, seen footprints, but never actually seen in person. The animals here are very nervous probably due to all the poaching. After the first night nothing has disturbed the carcass, but we will keep hoping and checking.
The final bit of thatching is being carried out on the staff insaka. It’s a pity that I can’t post up a picture because it actually looks quite impressive – considering none of the staff are actual thatchers. They seem to be taking a real pride in the place and have even managed to incorporate some little turrets on the cap of the thatch. Lime wash has been applied to the walls inside and out and it almost looks better than some of our chalets perhaps we should rent it out. Just the door and windows to finish off.
How very odd. We went to inspect the Puku carcass this morning – the one we left hanging in a tree to see if we could attract some of the lesser seen wildlife in the park and all that was left when we got there was the rope we used to tie it up. The whole carcass was gone. What is strange is that there were no footprints – animal or mans anywhere near. Just a mark to show where the carcass has been ripped off the rope, but no drag marks or any other indications as to what took it. Strange.
It'll soon be all hallows eve - Halloween. If I was back in the UK, I would be busy making preparations for the event, decorating the house, carving pumpkins and buying lots of sweets for trick or treaters. Here in Zambia however, where witchcraft is still truly believed in and practiced, I am wondering whether the addition of some carved pumpkins around the lodge might cause a bit of a stir after all I don’t want to be accused of invoking evil spirits and the likes. I bet the staff wouldn’t turn their noses up at the sweets though.
The usual Troup of Vervet monkeys was patiently awaiting my arrival to the kitchen this morning. Andrew came bounding up as usual, eager to see what delights I could muster up from the kitchen. A quick check in the fridge revealed some left over rice and a bowl of pasta. Perfect monkey fodder. They seem to like starchy carbohydrates. I guess it fills them up. Today a warthog also joined the clan. The monkeys didn’t seem overly bothered until it started eating the potato peelings. They looked imploringly at me as if to say well chase him away then.
We found the half eaten remains of a baby puku this morning. It was very young and we are not sure quite how it met it’s death but there it was, the middle section almost completely gone. The only upside is that we have some fresh meat to hang in the trees in another attempt to draw out the elusive leopard, whose footprints we discovered quite close to the missing carcass that we strung up a few days ago. We missed the prints at first and wondered what could have taken it, but a wider search revealed the culprit.
There was much excitement in camp today because after being here for almost 2 years, we finally saw a herd of buffalo out on the plain. We are told that there used to be a very healthy population here, but due to poaching their numbers have drastically diminished and although these creatures are intelligent and quite fearsome, they are rarely seen in daylight and avoid anything that looks like man probably all too aware of why their numbers have declined so. It was such a thrill to see them and with quite a few young,. Maybe there is still hope.
I was sitting in the office earlier today when I heard the familiar thud of furry feet on the roof. Thinking it was probably the baboons feeding on the last of the wild fig fruits on the tree just outside the office, I went out with my camera to try and get a few shots. Instead what I found was Andrew the Vervet Monkey with his clan, all sitting on the office wall waiting for me to venture up to the kitchen and find them something to eat. After a feast of bread, fruit and vegetables they went away happy.
The puku carcass which we found the other day is still hanging in the tree near our house, as yet untouched. We hung it there hoping that the rotting meat would attract some of the yet to be spotted wild cats in the park. For 3 evenings now we have sat and waited indoors, rushing outside at the sounds of falling twigs and branches, thinking that a lion or leopard may have come to retrieve its prize, but sadly so far there has been nothing. I hope they come soon as the vultures have already started to take an interest.
4 days later than promised, Emmanuel – the sacked employee turned up today armed with his last payslip which showed how much holiday pay he was entitled too. Unfortunately we had made a mistake and it showed more than he was due, but we honoured it and paid him off. He wanted some transport but didn’t say why, to his village which is some distance away but we declined on the basis of what it would cost. I did feel very guilty later when I learnt that he had left the site carrying a bed and mattress on his head.
Today like most other days here it is extremely hot – The little thermometer that we have has given up I think because most days the temperature goes off the scale. You have to drink copious amounts of fluid to stay hydrated but then you feel so uncomfortable with all that liquid inside you. Everything takes such a monumental effort. I think longingly to back home and the red and gold colours of the autumn, those chilly nights and crisp mornings, wrapping up in woolly jumpers and walking through the forest kicking up the leaves and seeing the glistening dew cobwebs.
A few nights ago we got an sos from one of the local fisheries. “Come quick they said we have got a baby monkey that one of the locals brought in. We are not sure what it is but it need looking after and we can’t do it”. Jon and I jumped in the Landrover and headed over there. It was early evening and already the sun had given way to a slither of moon. We saw Puku, bushbuck and common Dyker on the way and a couple of bush hares trying to outrun the beams on the headlights.
We arrived at the fisheries to find a tiny bundle of fluff curled up on a bed hugging a bright pink teddy. “It’s a baby Vervet” I said. “What happened to the mother”? “We think it was killed and probably eaten” they said. I carefully picked up the little bundle still clinging to the pink teddy bear and he immediately clung onto me, desperate for some love and warmth. He was so tiny and fitted into the palm of my hand.I feared he might not survive. Several days later he is doing fine and might just make it.
We have named the little Vervet monkey twitch because he has a little nervous twitch. We bough baby formula and he is eating bits of fruit and bread. He follows us everywhere and squeaks when he wants attention. We introduced him to the other monkeys and they looked at him in a curious way and called to him. He is a bit young to join them yet, but we hope that we can reintroduce him to his own kind in the future. In the meantime, we are playing surrogate parents and he seems to be lapping up all the attention.
There were lots of elephants around last night – nine we counted ranging from a young calf of maybe 1-2 years to an old bull. They are so incredibly quiet that you would hardly know that they were there – that is until you either get to close in which case they sound of their incredibly loud warning call, that reverberates right through you, or you hear the familiar cracking sound as another tree is unceremoniously felled with the ease of wind blowing a feather. We found one such tree outside the kitchen this morning just laying there on its side.
Twitch is making wonderful progress and becoming quite a handful. He laps up all the attention from guests and provides hours of amusement at the bar as he hops, skips and jumps from one person to the next, often trying to stick his head into their glass of whatever they are drinking. He has a strange little paddy when you lift him away from the glass and immediately makes a bee line for it once again. He seems rather fascinated with cigarette butts too. He is gaining weight and becoming more confident by the day. He really is so adorable.
We've a group of Danish visitors staying with us at the moment. They are a young group of individuals who are staying in Zambia for 2 months to see some of the tourist sights but also to assist in some community projects. They are a very nice group but with some strange customs especially when drink is involved, which over the past 2 nights has been in excess. One particular card game seemed to result in the loser having everyone else spit in their face – which we thought very odd and quite frankly rather disgusting. Oh to be 21 again!
The rainy season is now well and truly upon us, with fantastic electrical storms and angry rolling thunder bellowing down from the inky black skies on a regular basis. The humidity is stifling in the lead up to a storm and no amount of showers can rid you of that awful clamminess that envelopes you and the perpetual feeling of lethargy. That feeling of course is further compounded with late nights entertaining guests whilst they get progressively more and more drunk yet they still seem to be fresh as daisies in the morning and eager to begin the whole again.
The witching hour is almost upon us, but I say that with a degree of caution because there is a profound and inherent belief in witchcraft in Zambia and in many other African countries. JuJu they call it. If you are ill it is usually down to Juju. If your business fails or you have a run of bad luck – it’s all Juju and no amount of reasoning will shake that belief. So comes the hour of all hallows eve and the event is passed over without so much of a mention of carved pumpkins or trick or treat!
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