Wake Up Call in Liwonde

Life has been pretty interesting around here lately!

Recently we have gone camping in the Liwonde National Park, rescued a puppy, and dealt with craziness at work.  Not too shabby!

If you’re like me, you probably want to hear about the puppy situation first, so let’s get to it.  Last week Andrew and I were minding our own business and walking to get a cup of coffee down the street from our house on our lunch break.  As soon as we turned the corner outside our house, this man pulled a tiny puppy out of a dirty box and waved him in the air.  My heart immediately sank.  A lot of times people will sell puppies and in the process of doing so, not feed them or provide them with medical care.  They will hold the puppies up by their little scruffs for so long that their necks actually break.  When I saw this little pup so close I immediately grabbed him away from the man.  I pulled on his skin and when it immediately didn’t return to the normal shape I knew he was very dehydrated.  I looked at his little gums and they were white, meaning that he was anemic due to all of the fleas and ticks on his little body.  I felt his tummy and knew it was full of worms. (I’ve volunteered at the humane society a lot…) As I basically ran away with this mans puppy, he followed me and told me I had to pay for him.   I gave the puppy some of my water and we could all tell he was so thirsty.  I tried to explain to the man that he needed medical attention and would likely die.  The man was not interested in the puppy’s health, only making a profit.  He then tried to tell us how he would make a good, strong guard dog. The guard dogs in Malawi are terribly abused, often kept on short chains and muzzled their entire lives.  When he said this to me, we immediately paid him for the puppy and rushed him home.  We washed him and tried to give him some water.  The poor guy was so exhausted from being thrown around all day in a little box that he fell asleep immediately.  We walked him to the vet down the street where he got all of his puppy shots, flea and tick treatment, and worm treatment.  The poor little guy is safe now and will never be a guard dog.  I know that it wasn’t the right thing to do because now that man will continue to take puppies away from their mother at a young age (this puppy was only about 6 weeks old) because he thinks he can make money.  We tried to call the LSPCA, but their phone was disconnected and I just could not leave him.   I’m at peace with the decision now, just knowing he won’t have the same fate as so many guard dogs here in Malawi that spend their days chained up and emaciated.

Liwonde National Park

Liwonde National Park

After that emotionally draining day, we had some fun going camping in the Liwonde National Park!  Liwonde isn’t as big as South Luangwa and does not have as large of a variety of animals.  There aren’t buffalo or lions in this park, but there were plenty of elephants, warthogs (with babies!), baboons, vervets, and many antelope.  I hadn’t been camping in quite some time, so this was quite a treat.  We got to our camp and as soon as we arrived a herd of about twenty elephants passed through.  We loved sitting and watching them play,  eat, and interact with each other.  The camp we stayed at had observation decks built about 30 feet of the ground, so we got to sit on them and talk and read as we watched animals pass by.  It was such a great way to spend the day.

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Elephants passing by

One of the more special things we’ve been able to do in Africa was walk through the African bush with a local guide: a walking safari.  This isn’t something that most tourists do, so we really wanted to check it out.  Because Liwonde doesn’t have leopards or lions, walking through the bush is relatively safe if you can keep a watch for elephants and hippos if you are by the river.   We walked through the bush with our guide and were able to walk near a family of elephants.  Two young elephants played and splashed in the stream.  We kept a respectful distance and the elephants didn’t seem to mind us hanging out.  Walking among these animals was really special and a totally different experience than being in a jeep.  Andrew and I both agreed it was so nice to just walk among the animals and be in nature in a much less intrusive way.

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 The following morning we got up bright and early for a boat safari on the Shire River that runs into the more well known Zambezi River. When I say that we got up, I really mean we were woken up by an elephant noisily munching on a tree outside of the tent.  Being so close to these animals never fails to leave me in awe.  Not a bad wake up call!  “Boat safari” sounds much more glamorous than it actually was.  We boarded a very small boat that I was sure would sink at any moment and made our way (slowly) up and down that part of the river.  Being on the boat allowed us to get close to the hippos and crocodiles in their natural habitat.  I thought it was so funny how the hippo families like to get very snuggled as they sit together in the water, literally almost on top of each other.  The hippos didn’t seem to mind us boating around, but the crocodiles would swim away if our boat got too close.  I’m happy to report that I was incorrect  in my assumption that the boat would sink and we would be eaten by hippos.

Fisherman on the Shire River

Fisherman on the Shire River

On this river many locals make their living by fishing in tiny boats made of hollowed out trees.  Almost every week a fisherman is killed by a hippo.  This showed us how truly desperate the locals are for income and for food.  Everyday they go out fishing, knowing that it could be their last day.

In a much less physically dangerous way, we see this sort of desperation from our staff here at the house.  Just this week we have had 4 staff members ask for advances on their pay.  We always give them the advances because they almost always need them for medicine for a family member.  Most of these advances are less than $20.  I’ve also had staff tell me they can’t afford to eat this day.  Obviously I’m not going to let anyone go hungry in my house, so I provide them with food or give them an advance, but we always have to talk about it after. We keep trying to work with our staff to encourage savings and try to help them create realistic savings plans, but in Africa that is much less easier said than done.  These men make good wages for Malawians, but there is still rarely much leftover at the end of the month to put away for savings if they aren’t careful about their spending.

I believe that part of the problem is that many of these people have come to expect handouts, and their ambition has been stifled by this.  I was recently talking to our youngest staff member who only works on the weekends because he is in high school.  After asking him what he wanted to do after high school he told me that he would like to be a teacher.  I told him that was wonderful and asked him how he planned on going to school.  He said that he will wait until someone comes along that can help him and pay his school fees.  After I picked my jaw up off the floor (I have to do this a lot these days), I asked him why he couldn’t save his own money to go to college.  I made a savings plan for him and showed him how much he would need to save each month based on his current income to pay for his tuition.  I told him that Andrew and I both worked during college and that he would have to work also, but that it was very doable.  After looking back and forth between the plan and me, he finally said, “are you sure?”  I told him I was absolutely sure he could do this as long as he was careful with his spending and would save his money.  I told him we would start his plan at his next paycheck.  Well, payday rolled around and when I asked him how much he had planned to put away this month he told me he didn’t think he could do it.   I told him that I understood that sometimes it is easier to save than others, so maybe he can start next month.  He sort of nodded and shrugged and then we said goodbye.  I want to encourage him and help him, but at the end of the day there is only so much I can do.  I can’t force him to save money or to get another job.

I will end this post by urging you to consider which organizations you give your money to when you donate to charity.  For example, are you donating to a project that builds schools?  Ask yourself if there is a reason that the locals cannot build their owns schools.  Are we contributing to something meaningful or just taking away responsibility from the locals to improve their school structures?  Just consider where your money is going and if it is going to perpetuate the problem of people looking for handouts rather than saving money or being entrepreneurial.  Before I really saw need firsthand, I didn’t know if was so important to really look into where your money is going, but after being here I can contend that often aid does more harm than good if it isn’t done in the right way.  Just something to think about!

Also, if you had three meals today and will go to sleep tonight with a roof over your head, remember how truly blessed you are.   Being in Africa means that for us, this notion isn’t some faraway concept, but these people that are hungry are our friends and have names and families and hopes and dreams just like you do.

We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. -Maya Angelou