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Thoughts About Africa

I had never been to sub Saharan Africa before. We went to a private game reserve in South Africa called MalaMala. Then we went with some friends to Zambia near Kafue National Park. We stayed a couple days in Livingstone to see Victoria Falls. And we spent one day in Johannesburg where we visited an Afrikaner Village near Pretoria and a new high school.

Keep reading — I mix up thoughts and photos…

The Animals at MalaMala

What can I say? The animals were amazing. MalaMala was teeming with them. We arrived at noon and that first afternoon we went on Safari and saw a cheetah. During the course of our four days, we saw lions and leopards, rhinos and warthogs, giraffes and zebras, cape buffalo and wild dogs, hyenas and vultures, baboons, antelope of all kinds – kudu and impala and more, and birds. I don’t even like birds but marveled at the many beautiful ones we saw. We saw four different kills at MalaMala – not as they were happening but shortly afterward. The best for me was a mother leopard who had caught a kudu, carried it up a tree and then brought her cub up. The cub played with the kudu on one branch while the mother watched from a higher branch.  We also watched (heard) a male lion who was only a few feet away roar. The ground truly shook. Watching the lions was like watching my cats at home – the way they licked their paws to clean their faces or rolled over after a good meal.

The Scene at MalaMala

MalaMala is a beautiful resort with a hundred or so rooms spread through three different areas owned by the Rattray family. It is all inclusive with good food, well-trained rangers, and a nice pool. But most of all lots of animals. It is contiguous to Kruger National Park and the animals roam freely between the two.

When you get there, you are assigned a ranger and a Landrover. No more than six people are in a Landrover. We go out early each morning around sunrise and return for breakfast. Then there is free time to swim or sleep or read. We go out again around 4 pm and stay until dark with the rangers using spot lights to see animals at night. We saw lots of beautiful sunrises, sunsets, and moon rises.

For most of our stay, we were with only two other guests in our Landrover — a wonderful older woman named Pam and her niece Victoria from Britain. Pam – and previously her husband – have been coming to MalaMala every year for 30 years and she has become friends with the owners. Victoria had accompanied her before. They knew the genealogy of many of the animals. And Victoria was the best at spotting animals and following animal tracks in the sand.

Because Pam knew the owners we were lucky to have Mike and Norma (and one day their daughter Alison) join us at dinner. I thought they were delightful and gracious and we learned a lot about the game reserve and South Africa from them. Will and I were reminded of his grandparents. Mike’s father bought the land originally but Mike himself was quite a visionary, changing from a hunting reserve to a photo only reserve in the 60s. Mike and Norma told us about problems with poaching as well as how the government is buying back their land (at a fair price) to give to Africans from which it was taken long ago. They were worried about this as many Africans don’t have the business experience to run a resort. However, they said that they would be leasing the land back and running the resort for a time.

The rangers are all twenty-something youth who are well trained about the plants and animals, animal tracks, shooting, and driving Landrovers off road. They have radios and share information about what they see. Hearing of a kill or a leopard sighting, they are off across country, over trees and river beds. It is very dramatic and quite fun.  MalaMala is strict about no more than three vehicles near any animal so the rangers take turns. Our ranger, Matt, was a nice young man, very knowledgeable. He told us that after doing this for a few years, he wanted to return to school and work in finance. Will asked him how he would transition from being outside in the wild all the time to a desk job. He said it would be hard but he thought it would be best for financial security.

Kafue River Camp

We flew from MalaMala to Livingstone Zambia where we spent the night and then met up with friends – Paul, Yaffa, Dan, and Caroline — for the second half of the trip. Our friend Paul, who grew up in Rhodesia and South Africa, owns some land along the Kafue River near Kafue National Park. Paul and Yaffa are friends from the Seattle area. Dan and Caroline are from LA. He is an expert on child development and neurobiology. Caroline was a litigation attorney but now works with Dan. Their kids are almost exactly the same age as ours and we soon realized we have much in common and much to talk about.

To get to KRC, you take a small chartered plan for about 75 minutes, land on an unpaved airstrip, get into a Land Cruiser, and drive another 90 minutes. As we drove, we were attacked by tsetse flies and I was worried that the stay would be terrible. But there are no flies at the camp – only beautiful solitude, a picturesque river, animals, good food, fine friends, and lazy days – completely off line.  No people except for us and the staff. No noise except the animals – especially the hippos and lions.

View from camp

View from camp

Our cabin

Our cabin

KRC has four rooms – concrete slabs with thick canvas walls and roof and thatch over all. At the back, enclosed by concrete but open to the sky is a toilet, sink, and shower – all with river water heated by a coal stove which the staff lights morning and evening. Food is cooked in a pizza oven and served in a separate eating and sitting area overlooking the river.

Our hot water heater

Our hot water heater

Dining Area

Dining Area

The staff consists of Austen – a former game hunter who has lots of great stories – and some men from the local village who lead us on game drives, cook and clean.

Depending on the day, we go for game drives in the Land Cruiser or on mountain bikes. We wade in the river to an island across the way, walking around the island and “swimming” in the 8 – 10 inches of water just nearby. One day, Yaffa, Caroline, Dan and I go for a little run to get some exercise. Another day Yaffa and I walk fast while the others mountain bike again. A staff member accompanies us. During one of our drives, we are watching the puku – a kind of antelope – prancing along when all of a sudden one seems to jump much higher. Only it’s not a puku but a lioness making a kill. It was thrilling to see. The lioness held on to the puku until it died and then she dragged it across the field to a thicket to eat.

Jifumpa Village

The nearest village to KRC is Jifumpa, about 90 minutes away and we go off one day. We cross the river on a pontoon.

Pontoon crossing

Pontoon crossing

Clinic maternity ward

Clinic maternity ward

The village is about 1000 people with 4000 in the nearby area. There is a school and a clinic. Paul and Yaffa have given money to build a house for a teacher and to build a bore hole for a new well.

The trip to the village was a highlight for me because it opened my eyes to the challenges of Africa. I had been reading a book called The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith which follows African history since Independence. The book is depressing as it describes endemic corruption, wars, famine, indifferent cruelty. The book also explained that nearly a trillion dollars of western aid has been given to Africa, a huge amount pocketed by corrupt leaders, and very little to show for it. I hoped that a trip to a village would change my thinking.

The good news is that the children we met were eager to learn and full of life and happiness as all children are. Our friend Dan was like a pied piper. He gave a lesson on how the brain works to a classroom of children.

Dan gives a brain lesson

Dan gives a brain lesson

He also got kids to sing while he recorded them on his camera and then — to their delight — played it back.

The bad news is that we saw a culture of dependency where adults had a sense of entitlement. There were four or five teachers each with classrooms of 60-80 children – though not all children came to school every day. The school had no running water and no electricity.

School building

School building

They had been waiting for six months for books which had not come. Some of the children had notebooks, some wore uniforms, others did not. We asked one of the teachers – what would it take to get more teachers? We were told that the government would send them if they had accommodation for them. Why don’t you build some more houses we asked? Because the houses would be on government property. The government should build them. Our friends had built one house for a teacher.

School teacher's house -- note the solar panel

School teacher’s house — note the solar panel

Originally Paul had thought that the village would make the bricks (there is a large kiln just yards from the school)

Brick kiln

Brick kiln

and he would do the rest. But in the end, they would not even make the bricks without being paid. So, in this village, the adults did not seem to think it was their responsibility to educate their children.

We visited several of the teacher’s homes. By our standards, they were very modest – with two or three tiny rooms. But most had solar-powered generators, a DVD player and other amenities that you did not see at the school. One of the teachers asked me to give her my watch, saying I could just buy myself a new one. Another asked Will if Will would pay for him to go back to school. We’d never met them before. But we were white people and they seem to think that white people should give them things.

I was struck by how different this was from the US. Here, our teachers dig into their own pockets to buy things for their classrooms. And studying the history of our pioneers, I know that one of the first things every town did was join together to build a school and hire a teacher.

I was also struck by how different the village we visited was from the places we have been in Asia. We visited in the drought season so these subsistence farmers were not able to be in their fields. In Asia, we would have seen people making baskets or other crafts or goods to sell. Here, they were doing nothing.

I was told that part of the problem is the African tradition of not having individual ownership – that everything is owned by everyone so there is not the same incentive to be an entrepreneur. I suspect that western aid is as much to blame.

Another Village in South Africa

Jumping ahead, on our last day, we visited another village in South Africa called Onverwacht near Pretoria and the diamond mines. A lovely enterprising woman is trying to get the village on the tourist circuit. She is rebuilding her home so that people can join her for a meal, or even stay for the night and get the experience of living with Africans and eating traditional food. She showed us the house which was partially built. She called the people in her village Black Afrikaners. They are descendants of Africans who adopted the Afrikaner language and customs.

We went to a lovely church service – it was Sunday. Then she walked us through the village. She had great vision but little help from the rest of the villagers. This village was not as poor or isolated as the one in Zambia. But I did not get the sense that many people here took any initiative either.

Village boys

Village boys

Our guide in Onverwacht Village and the church we visited

Our guide in Onverwacht Village and the church we visited

African Leadership Academy

On our last day in Johannesburg, we visited the African Leadership Academy http://www.africanleadershipacademy.org/ This high school was started by an American and an African who met at Stanford Business School. The school offers two years of high school for kids from all around Africa with a focus on entrepreneurial leadership and ethics. They want to identify and connect the next generation of African leaders. And this school did offer a ray of hope – though with only 100 students per class (they had 4000 applicants for 100 places), it will take a long time to transform the continent.

Livingstone and Victoria Falls

We were in Livingstone and Victoria Falls twice – once on the way to Kafue River Camp and then on the way back. This time of year, the water flow is very low so you don’t get the full view of the rushing water. Still the falls are beautiful. On the first day, we walked across the Victoria Bridge to Zimbabwe and dodged very aggressive baboons and monkeys. On the way back from KRC, we were with the rest of our friends. We went on a sunset river boat cruise and then went to the top of the falls where Will went swimming – almost off the edge. I was too scared.

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