Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Heart of a Lion

I think most people by now know that a lot of the critters in my yard scare the pants off me. Mostly they are harmless, scary, but harmless. There are lots of animals in Malawi that are really really dangerous. Some of them are small enough to slip unnoticed into someone's (my) garden. I think the animals that terrify me the most are snakes. Cobras, boomslangs, mambas, they all live around here. We have found snakes in our garden but so far they have all been the harmless can't-kill-me-except-from-a-heart-attack sort of snake.

Before we came to Malawi to help get the kids excited we let them watch hours of African animal shows on Nat Geo Wild. We took them to the zoo and looked for all the animals from Africa. We read books about African animals. Somehow the black mamba seemed to show up again and again. Well mambas and hippos, hippos scare me silly but I am pretty sure I would notice a hippo wandering around my garden before I even made it out of the door. Mambas on the other hand are long and skinny and can hide any freaking where. I saw a show the other day where one was hiding in the water tank on the back of the toilet. That's one sneaky snake.

I can't blame all my issues with snakes on Nat Geo Wild. It's nothing new, but the upgrade from rattlesnake to mamba with the added bonus of severely limited availability of antivenin has meant a drastic escalation in my level of paranoia. All the boys from my husband down think I am nuts. I think I am cautious.

Last night I had a dream a black mamba reared up in my face while I was weeding around the overgrown comfrey plant in my garden. I'm sure this nightmare has it's roots in a late glass of red wine and an unfortunate incident with a bull snake in my Aunt Patsy's bean patch one summer when I was a kid. Nothing like a five foot snake rearing up in your face to scar you for life. Chicken snakes are harmless, black mambas not so much. I woke up this morning with my heart pounding praying it was raining so I could skip the garden today. The sun was shining. I guess I was going to be gardening.

As I walked into the garden I saw a skink slither into the comfrey plant. Good! If I was seeing lizards there probably wasn't a snake in the garden. I am assuming that a mamba would eat the lizard. If I am wrong don't feel the need to correct me, let me live in ignorance, my phobia doesn't need feeding, it is doing just fine on it's own.

The plan for this morning was to clear away the dead pepper plants and marigolds and to plant some bush beans. The dead pepper plants were right next to the comfrey. GULP! I refuse to let my crazy run my life so I plopped my butt down and started pulling up weeds. Then I noticed some dead leaves on the comfrey. Heart pounding I reached down and pulled them off and tossed them into the compost bucket along with the weeds. No snake reared up kill me. Whew! It was just a silly dream.

Do you remember that skink? The one I saw when I first walked into the garden? Well I had forgotten all about it and decided to finish tidying the comfrey plant as long as I was working around it. About halfway through cleaning it up the lizard suddenly had enough and decided to confront the problem (that would be ME) head on. A six inch lizard ran up my arm, jumped off my elbow, and headed for the tomatoes. All I saw was a blur with scales. Scream doesn't even begin to cover the sound I made. The guard came running. I am not sure he understood what scared me but eventually he seemed satisfied that there was no danger and he could go back to his post.

A lizard attack and severe embarrassment, great way to start the day. Is 8:20 am too early for a drink?

This is a skink, not a mamba.

Monday, February 27, 2012

If You're Happy and You Know It....

This week's FS BRU (Foreign Service Blog Round Up) topic is What makes you happy at your CURRENT post. My first instinct is to go with sarcasm. When all else fails revert to sarcasm.

Smiling boxes in the pouch make me happy.

Ok so maybe sarcasm isn't what Jill is looking for. I'm sorta betting it isn't what she had in mind when she suggested this topic for the BRU. I'll try harder to find my happy thought.

These guys make me happy.

Of course they make me happy (or mad or proud or frustrated or puzzled or frightened) pretty much any where we are happen to be. So that really isn't what makes me happy in Malawi, although they do make me happy. Pretty cute aren't they?

Safaris make me happy!

Of course safaris usually mean travel to Zambia or maybe Botswana so that isn't really something that makes me happy in Malawi. Just to be clear there are places in Malawi to go on safari, just none near us. We are hoping to hit up a few of those in the coming year.

So what does make me happy at my current post? Well this is the first post where we have had a yard of our very own. In Jakarta and Frankfurt we had shared green space but no private yard. You may or may not know that I love to garden. Watching green things grow makes me happy, very happy. I am loving having fresh produce from my own garden and sharing that love with my kiddos. In the last week we have had lettuce, yellow wax beans, watermelon, artichokes, leeks, carrots, edamame and broccoli all harvested from our garden. Healthy eating at it's best.

Also from our garden are roses and other flowers that Colin has started leaving in tiny surprise bouquets all over the house. I have to confess, I have nothing to do with the flowers and general landscaping other than to hand over a paycheck to our gardeners. The veggie patch is mine, the rest of the yard is all theirs. They do a great job and not having to mow all that grass makes me very very happy.

On the same line of thinking Nature's Gift Permaculture makes me happy. I was privileged to take basic permaculture gardening classes there last year. Alonzo and Colin had fun visiting the gardens and learning about chicken tractors and composting as part of Green Camp. As a family we have been on a birding hike out there as well. The Permaculture center definitely makes me happy.

Kumbali is right right down the road from the permaculture center. Kumbali Cultural Village makes me happy. The boys attended Green camp there and learned so much. They are hoping that there will be another green camp soon. As a family we have spent more than a few Sundays hiking out there then relaxing afterwards with live music and a "Green" or two in the village. That would be a Carlsburg beer simply called "green" due to the color of the label not, thankfully, due to the color of the beer.

One Sunday last year Kumbali hosted a quilt show with the local quilting guild. The quilts were so pretty strung among the trees and draped over pots. Many of them featured local chitenje fabrics. The colors are so bright and vivid. I have a growing stash of theses fabrics that make me pretty happy. One of these days I will get busy and actually turn them into something which I am sure will make me even happier.

Birds make me happy. Africa has such pretty birds. With the pond in our backyard we seem to have a never ending stream of birds stopping by to get a drink or bathe in the waterfall. We have gotten into the habit of keeping a birding book and binoculars handy in the living room. I would love to say it is to identify new species to add to our life list, but really it is just to try and prove Colin wrong when he suddenly shouts, "Look there's a paradise flycatcher!" or something like that. Usually he is right, but every once in a while we catch him in a moment of mistaken avian identity. Then we are all very happy, well except Colin, but I guess everyone can't be happy all the time.

Ama Khofi makes me pretty happy too. It opened about a year ago, tucked back into a corner of Four Seasons garden center. It is a idyllic setting for a light lunch or a Sunday afternoon milkshake run with the kids. My favorite lunch is chicken roti roll and Ama's iced tea. Yummy. It even has a caramel latte on the menu for when I'm really craving a Starbucks fix.

Another thing that makes me happy is Domwe Island. Malawi may not have ocean front but it does have Lake Malwai where we were able to rent Domwe Island when our nephew Patrick came for a visit last September. Renting a whole island for vacation is just so "Life Styles of the Rich and Famous"! I never expected to be able to say we rented the whole island. We had a blast snorkeling, kayaking, and just hanging out watching the world go by from the deck overlooking the lake. When a rock hyrax crawled out from under the deck to peer at us from the rocks it was just too perfect. An island all to ourselves and a new, non-terrifying, critter to add to our list of African animals we have seen in the wild. Life is just perfect in moments like that.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Backyard Safari

There is no doubt that one of the biggest bonuses of serving at a post in Africa is the animals. Going on safari was a childhood dream. Blame Marlin Perkins.

How many of you are now humming "Mutual of Omaha is people you can count on when the going's hard?"

I can hardly believe that I actually have been on safari, in Africa. Pinch me. What's not to love about seeing things like this,

and this,

and this?

Sadly the area of Malawi where we live does't offer much in the way of wildlife viewing opportunities so our Safaris are few and far between. It doesn't seem to bother my kids much, they go on safari in our back yard every day. While they may not be spotting the big five (thank heavens) they do find plenty of critters to keep them happy and to keep me living in a state of terror.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

You stepped on his WHAT???!!??

Dave and I were in the kitchen, Colin and Grayson were in the living room. Suddenly Grayson screamed like he was dying. I yelled for both boys to come here NOW. Colin showed up first and before I could even ask what happened he started spilling the beans.

"I was just walking then I stepped on his face."

Hmmm....Maybe I need to clean my ears I thought he said he stepped on his face.

"You stepped on his FACE??"

"Yeah I was just walking and then he put his face under my foot."

"Grayson put his face under your foot?"

By this time Grayson had shown up and was holding his nose and crying while rubbing his face on my tummy thereby smearing tears boogers and possibly blood all over my dress. Quick check, no blood, things are looking up.

"Yes he put his face under my foot and I stepped on it. I didn't see his face I swear! I wouldn't have stepped on his face if i had seen it lying there under my foot."

I know he wouldn't have stepped on Gray's face, he would have STOMPED on it instead.

You know some days my kids make me very glad I was an only child.