Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Easter at Kasanka


This trip was so cool that I wanted to give it it's post and it's own separate collection of photos.  I can't believe I have not posted these yet!

We've been to Kasanka before during the bat migration.  Every November and December (at the beginning of Zambia's rainy season) some five million of the continents largest fruit bats come from all over to roost on one hectare of Kasanka's wooded wetland -- it was a long drive in very hot and rainy weather, we were self-catering & tent-camping. We enjoyed the time there -- the bat experience was unbelievable -- but it really was not the most relaxing or chill trip.  When the idea came up to spend Easter weekend there with the family in April for birding, it was not an easy sell:  7 hours in one car.  With 7 people.

Right there you have a big huge red flag saying "THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA".

But. .. what about 12 people in two planes for 55 minutes?  NOW we're talking.

We hatched a fairly last minute plan - our friends have an air charter service and had two planes available.  The main lodge only had the French ambassador booked and we could stay at an outlying camp to keep out of her way and basically have the place to ourselves.  The other family with the planes.... their boys are good friends with ours and were home from boarding school.

Oh, and they all used to live at Kasanka.  The boys grew up there and know the lodge, the staff, the bush like the backs of their hands.  We would basically have everything we needed organised for us and everyone at our disposal for guided walks, fishing, canoing, birding, sitatunga-stalking.  SOLD.

As a bonus, the Kasanka Trust has a world reknown ornithologist on staff would could take Hugh (and any other willing birders) birding around Kananka and, if we were up for it, out to Bangweulu to track down some Shoebills.  For Hugh, this was an opportunity NOT to be missed.

Separate plugs means that the kids can talk to eachother but that we can shut off their mics.  This is key to happy flying with a gang of boys who would like to spend the entire flight singing and burping.

Leaving Lusaka

This was the view for most of the flight.  (Minus the grey spots.  That was my sensor before it was cleaned. Thank goodness I have a friend here who I trust with my gear and he sorted that out for when we came back. I had put off bringing the camera into him because I was worried I had really done it in and damaged the guts of the camera (it is ABUSED) and really could not have bore that news.)

Swamp swamp, crocs, hippos, stream, and swamp.

Pilot and Co-Pilot

Wasa Lake and Wasa lodge (the round building is the main lodge/reception)

The airstrip at Wasa... with "the Landy" waiting for us.

The kids (except the baby) and Alan took one plane, the parents took the other.  

Alan, strategizing how to pick the non-wacko kid vehicle.

Tsetse forest.... with wildlife come Tsetse and biting flies.


TROUBLE x 4:  Dom, Finn, O and James.  The boys has a separate agenda from ours.  Theirs involved fishing.  They caught a LOT of stones and not a lot of fish.  They really did not care too much. They were happy to catch anything.

And shooting. They shot at targets and tin cans.

They also had babysitting duties, although I bet it was more the case that TomTom took care of them.  Look at this guy!! He's ALL BUSINESS!

The clowns, meanwhile...

Miracle of miracles, the "ee-see bunny" found us all the way out at Luwombwa Camp!  But the chocolates and eggs were hidden in the craziest places!

A beautiful Easter Breakfast on the banks of the Luwombwa River.

Are these two related?  Todd and his mom, Bev.  

Frank Took us out for a night drive in the truck.  we stopped a few meters ahead and looked up an there was an owl RIGHT ABOVE US.  We could have touched it, it was so close!  no one managed to get a photo but it was one of those WOW safari moments.  Super cool.

craziness with my f stop.

One of the main hides for animal viewing...we climbed up close to sunset.

At my favourite spot, standing on top of a truck.  We were looking for a swamp dwelling antelope called a Sitatunga.  They are shy creatures.  We were also looking for shoebills just in case some had wandered back into Kasanaka NP.  (below:  Todd NOT following the rules of staying by the vehicle.  I think he was flanked by Edmond with his pistol b/c they went to go check out a MASSIVE croc.

Team Jennings!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Rewind to April

I've had to go back and check what all I wrote about the visit we had from Todd's parents (Bev and Hugh) and his brother (Alan) back in April.  I wrote about their arrival -- somehow without relaying the story of their crazy departure story and the trip they had before they even landed here.  The story involves a 4AM phone call from the FBI.  It's a good one but one you should ask about in person b/c by now I'm certain the actual details are lost to the much better and highly embellished version of the story.  Let's just say they made it here.

We dragged to to all the scheduled school activities and community events -- they spent their first day here wandering around at the American School with hundreds of other people and managed to stay awake to cheer the boys (and us!) on in their triathlon performances.  We could easily have let them stay at home and catch up on some sleep but with such a relatively short visit, they opted to just dive right into things and managed to stay awake.  If you have ever traveled across ten time zones in a day, you'll appreciate that this is a HUGE accomplishment.  The Jennings handled it with grace, altho I did catch Bev dozing off in the car as we drove home....but of course only as I was also falling asleep from the days' excitement and I had NO excuse!

It was nice that they have met so many of our friends either from crossing paths in Seattle or during their previous visits to Zambia (which date all the way back to 2009 when ALL THREE grandparents came at the same time) that they had a good time seeing everyone again and 'connecting the dots' from all our stories and their own memories.

As I mention, they had a relatively short time here, just 3 weeks, so we really had to pack it in.  There is a certain obligation we feel to 'show off' Zambia -- not only to make the huge expense and hassle of their journey worthwhile but to share the things we love best about living here.  It's also an excuse for us to try some things that have been on our Z Bucket list.  The list is long and pretty open-ended so we had a few options to pick and choose from.  One thing, which I already wrote about, was to go to Tsika Island.  The other big trip (in between some little trips and normal daily 'adventures') was spending the Easter holiday at Kasanka National Park, one of Zambia's smallest, coolest and most unique parks. We used the Kasanka trip as a launching off point to visit Bangweulu.  This swamp and wetland lies outside of the Park boundary -- and surprisingly, outside of any protected wildlife area but is nonethless an incredible area for wildlife and....wildlife viewing of the avian variety.

Zambia@Fifty and a big can of worms

Unless you live in Zambia, the 50th anniversary of Zambia's independence from Great Britain on October 24th probably did not make it onto your events calendar.  We celebrated by (1) going to Tanzania and (2) playing "Where's the President?"

Zambia's president was reported to have collapsed at the end of May and from that point onwards he was either out of the country (doing who knows what, the speculation is of course that he was getting medical treatment) or in State House (also doing who knows what because he was only occasionally seen in Zambia).  The rumors were endless and always unconfirmed.  He missed all kinds of major events, INCLUDING all the 50th Jubilee events and celebrations.  One international news outlet reported that Zambia was "sleepwalking into a disaster."  

People who questioned his whereabouts or brought up his health or his ability to run the country were criticised and admonished.  Just like when Zambia's President Mwanawasa collapsed and eventually died in 2008, there was no open conversation or discussion or release of news.  Both of these men lived out their final days in secrecy and without the support, well-wishes and prayers of the public.  

The 50th anniversary celebrations went on without the president on the 24th and finally on the 28th the government released an official statement that the president had died at a hospital in London. It is not known what he died of or really what the last 6 month of his life (as ruling president) were like. It's a big mystery.

One of the big things King Cobra (his nickname) promised when he was elected was to FINALLY roll out a new constitution.  This is something that was desperately needed and something which has still not happened.  One huge, major administrative 'problem' with the current constitution is the issue of SUCCESSION.  The country experienced this first hand in 2008 when the sitting president died and there were many constitutional questions about who would fill his spot.  In 2008 it was a bit less tricky than 2014. The Vice President became acting president and presidential elections were held within 90 days of the president's death as laid out in the constitution. Then, the Acting President became the elected President and he filled that seat for the remainder of that term of office.  The VP position here is an appointed, as opposed to elected, seat.  In 2008 the VP ran for the office of president and won so the transition was relatively uneventful.

In 2014, however, the appointed Vice President was technically (this is debatable and has been endlessly debated without any clear resolution) not eligible for being president.  To complicate matters, when the sitting president was evacuated to the UK a committee appointed a different guy to be acting president.  This detail is important because the president himself did not appoint the dude, a committee did -- and this dude was NOT the VP.  When the president's death was announced it was not even clear who then was the acting president...was it the VP who, by the constitution, slides into that role in the case of the president's death or was it the guy who was put into that role by a committee.  And if the VP could not BE president, could he be even be "acting president?"  

And...if you are not in this country, you are wondering how someone could be appointed as VP who did not meet the constitutional requirements to be President?  This is a bit of a mystery as well.  To complicate things, the VP, a Zambian by all legal definitions - he was born in Zambia in 1944 -- is a white guy.  As you can imagine this fact opens up a whole big can of worms for many many people and this fact (inconsequential to many Zambians actually) was brought out by the international news because suddenly Zambia was "the first African Country to have a white president since F.W. DeKlerk!: (FWdK was South Africa's last Apartheid-era president).  Most Zambians said "Get over it" but the colour of this African's skin was causing some eyebrows to be raised.  Imagine...WHITE Africans? They do exist -- generations of them all over the continent! and 'brown' (asian/indian) africans!  Imagine! (I am being sarcastic but the fact that Africans can be anything but black is really a shock to some people although I am not sure why -- America is not the world's only 'melting pot' and South Africa is not the world's only "rainbow nation.")  

Wikipedia has a funny story:  "In a meeting with former US President George W. Bush*, he said 'when they introduced me as Vice President, he thought they were kidding'."  (*GW is a frequent visitor to Zambia and is very involved personally in community/charity work here).  This is a link to a great article that perhaps I should have just copied instead of blabbing on and on: "I am Africa's First White Democratic Leader."  There is a great photo of the Obamas with Guy and Charlotte -- America's 'black' president and first lady with Zambia's 'white' ones. Love it.

To complicate things, the Z constitution requires that a president's PARENTS also be Zambian 'by birth or descent'.  This is nearly impossible, however, because Zambia only became a country in 1964 so almost no-one who is old enough to run for president was born after 1964 and I don't think anyone who could run for office has parents who are under 50 years old!  So, the past presidents' parents have been Rhodesian, Malawian, Congolese, Angolan or who knows what, but for the White Guy whose parents were Scottish and were not even born in the neighbourhood of Zambia, it was not a detail that people were willing to just gloss over, even if his father moved to what became Zambia way back in 1927 and who served in parliament here, etc.  Blah blah blah. 

And so...Zambia quickly moved from Party Mode, celebrating her 50th to Mourning Period. The triumphant new flags -- freshly stitched and recently raised were just days later lowered to half-staff.  Just as quickly they had to move onto political campaigning.  The VP decided to just 'drop it' already and he is presently sitting at State House as Interim President, and is waiting to see who will take over for the remainder of the term.  He could have contested, he could have run for office but there were far too many obstacles in the way to make it worthwhile personally or politically to drag Zambia thru the mess.  One big thing that again is not discussed is his own ill-health and rumors of advancing/progressing disease.  

In another 18 months, Zambia will do thru it all again because this election is only to fill the seat for the remainder of the term of office....in 2016 there will be another, even bigger election season.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Zanzibar revisited.

For our 10th anniversary, we did a very last minute trip to Zanzibar.  It took 5 years but we made another trip for our 15th anniversary.  I hope this will become a tradition!  Because Zanzibar in October is STEAMY and SALTY and the beach is SANDY... I hardly took my camera out.  (We were also so busy doing things that we really did not have time to document the holiday).

This trip took us up to the Northern tip of the main island, Unguja Island, which most people just call "Zanzibar."  So, already I feel like I need to back up.  Zanzibar is a semi-automous island archipeligo which is governed by the Republic of Tanzania.  The population is 99% Muslim and 100% awesome.

People there speak Swahili and English, although if you are in the hospitality business, as most everyone we interacted with, you likely speak Italian, French, Spanish, German, Dutch and anything else that is deemed useful.  This fact made a huge impression on our boys who were embarrassed to only speak English and have a solid but beginning grasp on French.  They have heard enough Swahili in their lives to be comfortable trying out new vocabulary and spent a lot of time while we were there quizzing eachother and TJ and anyone who would talk to them on "how do you say....?"  We, the parents were also scolded severely for not making sure they were bi- or tri- lingual.  This is a sore point for us all because it is a real regret about living in an environment where we are regularly exposed to other languages but almost never have to use it.  (ciNyanglish does NOT count as a language, boys, sorry!)

To try to unravel Zanzibar's 20,000 year history of human settlement in one post is not something I'm going to attempt.  Given the republic's 50th anniversary, however, I can take a stab at that.  In 1963 the island archipeligo become independent from their UK protectorate and soon after (April 1964) another step was taken towards autonomy mainland Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to become "The United Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar...which then soon became "Tanzania".  Here is a good "SAT word" for you: portmonteau.  It is a linguistc blend, or morphemes of two words.   Tanzania...which we pronounce as TAN-ZAN-EE-YA but we hear occasionally as TAN-ZAANE-EEYA.  As a very side side note, portmonteau is also "coatrack" in French.  In the context of being a linguistic term in english it was first used in 1871 by Lewis Carroll as Humpty-Dumpty explained to Alice about slithy (lithe and slimy) and mimsy (flimsy and miserable).  Which reminds me that we regularly use the term "Zamboozled" to describe the many ways we are bamboozled by Zambia.

At any rate, Tanziania for the time being remains the protectorate of Zanzibar.  This could change, however.  At the very least, the details of the Tanzanian-Zanzibari relationship could change because there is a genuine undercurrent of discontent that Zanzibar does not have enough control of their own population and even that the Tanzanians (and Kenyans) are basically bullies to the 'native' population of Zanzibaris...economically, socially, etc.

The physical relationship between the two republics IS clear.  The two main islands, Unguja and Pempa sit offshore from the mainland, separated by a channel between 23 and 35 miles.  Unguja is 53 miles / 85 kilometers long.  Pemba is 42 miles/ 67 kilometers long.

It's hot (70-95 degrees) and humid and as a result is lush and green and insanely beautiful. Which...is what makes it so dang popular with tourists.

Our last trip took us mainly to Jambiyani but we also spent time at the southern end of the island (Kizimkazi) and in Stonetown.  This time we ventured up to the northern tip to the beaches at Nungwi and then to a super-posh resort in Kiwenga on the Eastern side of the island.  We did a day-trip by dhow to Mnemba Atoll for snorkelling and an amazing lunch on the beach and had some time in Stone-town to roam around.  Fun Stuff.  By some weird glitch, the posh place was a great deal...we were there on the cusp of 'seasons' and this particular hotel not only started their low season rates a week earlier but they also had a weird 'teenager' rate for our 12 year old where every other place was still in high season and only had child or adult rates.  Adult rates start at 12.  (But judging from the argument going on downstairs between our two boys...12 is a lot more like 3! Sigh.)  It was great to go someplace new and as much as we are not 5-Star tourists, it was nice to be somewhere where all the thinking was done for you.  The few occasions where we have stayed at posh resorts, we have been lucky enough to end up in ones that are not so generic that you really could be anywhere in the world.  This place definitely was "Zanzibar"...but Zanzibar with cold drinks, AC, cable TV and...bush-babies cheering us on during our night-time tennis match.

Needless to say the trip was wonderful and a great way to celebrate our 15th (while Zambia celebrated her 50th.)



I was looking back at Village Chicken.  2014 was such an exciting and busy year for us!  But it was too busy for blogging!  I'll look to catch up and fill in some HUGE gaps: the Grandparents' visit, Uncle Alan's visit, Cousin Kyla's visit and all that we did with them while trying to keep up to date for 2015.  Here is my to do list:  Kasanka, Bangweleu, Lilayi, Chobe/Botswana, Mvuu, Zanzibar, Mozambique and then we are ready for 2015.