Zambian Critters

A month of animal tales from a teacher in the Zambian Bush

Anna G. Joujan 

© Copyright 2018 by Anna G. Joujan 


Photo a lion's paw print.

Photo  (c) 2001 by Richard Loller.
It is good”

I am watching the monkeys frolick outside my bedroom window as I ponder the first week of my time here in Zambia. It is a difficult thing to make any sort of coherence out of the scrambled flurry of thoughts, reactions, experiences, and wonderings that are jostling about in my head, but I shall make a valiant effort, I promise . . .

Perhaps it will help if I list [lists help me think :-)] some of the difficulties and some of the joys of my time thus far, beginning with difficulties, as that shall be a decidedly shorter shortlist, I suspect:

-It is difficult to be disconnected, in that the internet access I expected to have does not exist. This may or may not be fixed while I am here, but for an indefinite period of time at least, the wireless network does not, er, network ;-), and so I am limited to the [extremely limited] times when I can borrow the wired computer in the lodge’s main office.

-It is difficult, in a similar vein, to be dependent upon others for all that I am used to being decidedly independent about: housing, schedules, laundry, meals, coffee [I unfortunately made the error, upon first arriving, of hooking up my water heater, via the electric adaptor I had brought with me; shorting out the electricity led to the embarrassing realization that I could not use such energy-using appliances!].

-But it is good, also, to have said level of dependence, in all its difficulty. I needed to let go of some of my self-sufficiency, to break out of all my comfort zones.

-It is good—more than good—to spend my days with my students. To have a day fly by, morning to night, in a flurry of lessons learned, questions asked, questions answered [hopefully correctly!], tests given, warthogs chased out of the schoolroom, etc, etc. (Yes, I’m afraid the warthogs have decided I am their new favorite person, and so they make all-too-frequent visits to whatever happens to be my current location.)

By the way, now the bushbuck is the current animal outside my window—he is my favorite friend” so far :-)

-It is good to chuckle at the Where are you running to?” question that I have been getting as I jog past those walking along the local paths.

-It is good to see memory-jogging sights, such as women pounding cassava, heads laden with loads of firewood, babies papoosed onto working mamas’ backs, men rhythmically whacking the grass with their scythes, etc, etc.

-It is good to walk along the path surrounded by a crowd of little ones fighting for a turn at hand-holding and shouting over each other to ask me the one question they know in English: How are you?”

-It is good to be getting to know the individual learning styles of my students. I see that Eva needs to be allowed to go off on learning tangents once she hits the point of no-return-fidgetiness with Science lessons. I see that Ellen has her most productive period in the late afternoon, once sisterly distractions are lessening; she even likes staying late, apparently enjoying her work more in the quiet of a classroom that is empty except for me and the occasional critter. I see that Lara often needs to just begin a new project in order to realize that she really does enjoy it after all . . .

It is good–it is so very good–to be here.

Week 1: An unwelcome visitor”

Photo of a wart hog in the bathroom.I, who happen to have a horrid fear of warthogs, had this decidedly unwelcome visitor upon my second day in the chalet. My attempts to coax, shoo, prod, er . . . holler to remove him proved futile. Finally, a passerby came to the doorway and kindly used his weedwacker to assist the extraction. Not before I had lost a few possessions to the beast’s un-discriminating appetite. I suspect, however, that he may be on the shorter end of the stick: among his courses I realize are three quarters of a bottle of shampoo and the blade from my shaving razor . . .

Week 2: Flushing Froggy”

As is customary, I took my morning walk from my room to the Bush Camp shower and toilet house I use. As is also customary, I then used the toilet before hopping in the shower. The bathhouse being dimly lit, I do not generally peer very closely into the toilet bowl, but this time I noticed something there after flushing. I guess the last visitor left a little something here . . . I thought, slightly amused. So I waited a moment and flushed again. Still there. And again. Still there. That’s odd, I thought. This time I bent down and looked closely into the toilet bowl.

Then I laughed.

There looking up at me was a good size bullfrog, toes gripping the sides tightly and an expression of what I perceived as annoyance on his froggy face. Rightly so, for sure. I apologized out loud to him then, for showering him with such a rude morning awakening.

Leaving the toilet cover up this time [it is generally left shut], I was relieved to see that he had left his post by the time I finished my shower, presumably to a more sanitary and suitable habitat.

I was, however, amused to learn later that this does happen regularly, not because they jump into the toilet bowl but rather because they come up through the pipes themselves . . . so maybe he did not escape to such a sanitary abode after all . . .

Week 3: What Remains”

This is what remains of the evening’s visit by a hungry lion. What does not remain is one not-quite-fast-enough Puku, or so reported the Zambians who told me about the prints and the marks of the struggle. 

Photo of lion paw print.

Week 4: The Week of the Lions

It is a sound unlike any I have ever heard before, and a sound impossible to describe with the written word. But once you have heard it, you can never forget it. So my sleep has been sweet, lulled into slumber each night to the soft and steady hum of the lions.

It has been the week of the lions. A small pride of females moved into the camp—no one knows why, as it is unusual for them to choose such a relatively inhabited spot, humanly speaking, for their hunting grounds. But they are most definitely here. And our daily life has been significantly disrupted.

Photo of lions resting.

I first realized how much so when a vehicle arrived early Monday to pick us up from school. The driver explained that the lions were right there behind the school, and so it was not safe for us to take our usual 5-minute walk back for lunch break.

For the remainder of that afternoon, we heard consistently intermittent reminders that one large cat was lounging right behind us. She was just hidden enough by the grasses for us to not be able to get a good look, but tauntingly close enough that each rustle in the grasses left us with almost-glimpses.

The next disruption occurred when the subject of my morning runs came up among staff. While I had asked about running before I came, it has ended up being debated off and on, as local folks notice my habitual roaming of the grounds.

It was with trepidation that I awaited the outcome of these deliberations—being an utter addict, if I were to be cut off from my run, I would be a lost soul indeed. Ultimately, to my great relief, it was decided that I could keep my routine, on one condition: I can no longer run with headphones.

So I am, for the first time in about 10 years now of running, getting used to what I call my silent runs.” It’s been actually quite a nice realization to find that I can adapt to hearing only the sound of my own feet and breath. No doubt when I am once again living in an area where I can run with my iPod, I will welcome its return, but for now, I am happy without.

And so we have come through what I will remember as the week of the lions.

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