Saturday, August 23, 2014

chilling at home

The girls' bedroom has not been over-used this summer. Naomi has generally been sleeping on the floor with Oscar, in makeshift tents. They have been colonizing the entrance hall, the living room, behind sofas, under tables, in corridors etc for the last 2 months, building tents out of a garden umbrella, some capulanas and many pillows, raiding the pantry for corn flakes, biscuits and milk in order to survive the difficult moments between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner and dinner and breakfast. That is why the bedroom was impressively clear of toys. Most of the barbies, legos and indescriptible bits of plastic, metal and wood were all spread in the hall and in Oscar's bedroom that day.
TV is the best baby sitter and the best freezing device for people. Two quick ones of the family watching some Garfield / Scooby Doo/ or some documentary with catchy title (Most dangerous encounter/ shark bite or the like).


I should probably do more house sketches, for we are going to move end of Octobre. We got our hands on an amazing place, in the middle of town, an old 1935 tin-roofed house, with a veranda all around and - most of all- in front of the only small neighborhood park of Harare, Rowlands square. The park is surrounded by great big trees, jacarandas and bolivian spitting trees (?), its 5 minutes from the centre of town, a stone trow away from two of the main roads but completely out of it at the same time, in a sort of time warp. The park is a little bit unkept, but nothing terrible. For us it is a great place: in the city, on a small plot but with a great perspective, and a sure possibility to participate and bring the community together more in the public space of the square.
Our house on the top of the hill has been filled with joy, energy and great sadness, and we are very keen to move on, for new beginnings. Good things coming.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Matusadona Game count

After a week in the bush, your legs are scratched, your beard looks rough, you smell like a cave man and you really enjoy the absence of tsetse flies when you shower. 

Following the dino trip to Mana Angwa I received a phone call out of the blue asking if  
  1. I had a big 4*4 and 
  2. I was interested in doing a game count in Matusadona the next WE. 
Yes! A landie actually makes you popular in these tropics, and people are ready to bet that the landie driver is actually not an unpleasant individual trying to compensate with a square diesel engine. Or maybe they know what to expect but also know that it will be ok to deal with it. 
The negociation with my wife was (not so) tough, not really a negociation as well. I am sure that she did not mind at all staying with the kids, and welcoming 4 friends at home when I was away. She says that it was easy, at the end, to fit all the 8 people in our honda fit. Now that I know that, I will feel less remorse next time.

So, I joined a group of four all of whom turned out to be really interesting and cool people. The Matusadona Game count was organized by the Zambezi Society. 

A game count really consist of walking for some days (4 in our case) in a national park, with a ranger, recording tracks, sights and signs of animals and human activity. The animals are counted in order to estimate the population and species of mamals (and birds,...) in the area, and the human activity to estimate the poaching and interaction between wildlife and humans in the park. 
We camped in the park, walked in the area that was allocated to us and recorded whatever we could see, climbing hills, checking water spots, following animal tracks, and trying to be usefull to the parks and Zambezi Society. 
I hope we did a good job. 
Our walks and observations unfortunatly revealed that if we saw many tracks of animals, buffalo, elephants, porcupines, hyenas, kudus, steinbuck, klipspringers, roan antelopes, sables, zebras, genet cat, etc, the tracks were mainly made of droppings, scats, dungs, poo, shit and middens, along with foot prints, and bones for we have not seen many animals alive. 
We walked, climbed, observed, searched for hours from high viewpoints for signs of meat-fur-and-flesh-moving things but could not see much. In four days we saw a family of elies (about 13 of them, with youngsters and teens), 4 klipspringers, one steinbuck, a couple of wardhogs and squirrels, 2 lions and a shrew. We heard a baboon, and a hyena. Not much. 

On the other hand, the entire area we walked in burned on our second day, we found three skeletons of elephants, whose skulls had been cut so the tusks could be removed and saw for ourselves that the animals were fearing humans: we got charged by the elies, enough to confirm the great training and professionnal reactions of the ranger. 
The area we had to survey is bordering the communal land that is rented to the camp fire project for hunters. The proximity with humans is generally synonymous to low numbers of animals, which we knew from the start. On our second day we spotted a fire starting behind a hill a few km away, so decided to go check it. The ranger knew that they were poachers, as they use that burn tactic to hide their tracks or to see better animals, when hunting with dogs. Reaching the hill top we saw that the fire was not alone, that fires were being lit as far as we could see, in a line, between us and the camp. such fires are made to clear an area, but are also made to move animals in one direction. 
The fire did come very close to the camp and Lucy, who stayed on the campside for the day, packed up the entire camp in the cars and drove them to the river bed, saving the day for us. 
(c) Lucy Broderick, 2014
On our hill top, watching the smokes and hearing the cracks of the wood burning I really felt that such a fire was not really made to help local poachers, but maybe designed to push the game towards the hunting concession. That feeling came back a couple of days later, when, on the main road we came across a hunting party. So on one hand we try to monitor the population of animals, one of the use of it is also to identify the quotas allocated for hunters, and on the other hand we saw something that seemed organized to clean the national park wildlife, push the game to the hunting grounds, and at the end we struggle to see much animals. Human-animal interaction. Humans, one point. For sure, in a country facing economical difficulties, hunters bring big money, poaching as well and there seems to be little alternatives. 
Anyway, the week was very enriching and great, we clicked well in the group. 
It is always amazing to walk in the bush, pay attention to small things, trying to help and make a difference, meeting new people and just doing something new. 
It was also something I set as a goal for 2014: Multiply opportunities to walk in the bush and getting involved in environmental societies. Check. 
Now I need to find some jobs. 

(c) Lucy Broderick, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

a sky a day 2

The sky a day is continuing, with some taken from home, from Chenge camp, on the river (Zambezi) and during that game count on the Matusodona National Park. 
There is something zen about looking in the sky, the clouds and in doing that 5 min watercolour.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wild in Chirundu

We went to B&T's wedding on the banks of the Mighty Zambezi river, in Chirundu, last WE. A quick trip in a stunning place. Amazing sunsets, a lot of elies and the bush that turns colours now. 
The morning of the wedding we went for a river cruise, the family, friends and a springy 88 years old granny. The kids were fishing and only my 4 years-old caught a fillet size bream. She was so happy:  she was then THE expert, telling all the others kids that if they wanted she could catch the fish and they could bring it up. That did not go down well with them, hahaha. For the smallest girl to give fishing advises to her older sibblings, they took it hard on their pride. 

As she was chatting about her skills tree elephants came just right next to us for a drink. They must have smelled the passion fruits and apples we had as snacks. They were chilled, we were right in the wind so they were fully aware of our presence there. They stayed for a full half an hour, it was amazing. 
Sunsets were wonderful, the wedding in the most gorgeous place, in a plain along the river, with hippos in the water, elies on the other side and a group of baboons crossing the plain. Good omens for B&T!
Here under some sketches I did of our trip. 
My colours are still not coming right after the scan, I kind of give up on that issue.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dinosaur Walk


Last friday, we woke up before the sun rose, to start a boy's trip back in time, tracking dinosaur footprints in the Mana-Angwa bush. 
A couple of months ago Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe organized a conference about zimbabwe's dinosaurs, which was very interesting, even if it was difficult to understand clearly if these dinos were truly indegenous zimbabweans or just Gondawa's colonial settlers. I guess the ministry of indegenesation is working on that one. At the end they might just benefit from the greek status. 
The speaker, Dr Ali, passionatly spoke about how people (including him) found exceptional signs of dinos in the country, including skelettons and footprints. I am going to zap on the technicalities of the types of sauropods, teropods and layers of rocks in which they were found. At the end I found out that there was an excursion organized to go find and see some of the bones and footprints. 
How excellent!
5 to 7 hours drive from Harare, four days camping in the middle of nowhere, in National Parks, under the leadership of a flamboyant geologist, tracking footprints of animals who disapeared millions of years ago. Really cool. 

So my mate Rob and his boys joined in with me and Seb and a dozen other curious good people. 
And the trip was really worth it! It was incredible to see those prints, set in sandstone in the riverbed as if the beasts have wandered there yesterday. 

Bordering the stone formations were the sauriens prints were, we could see, fresh in the sand and mud, hundreds of tracks of elephants, kudus, hyenas and other animals so we could really visualize the dinos walking, as if we just missed them a minute before. 
Ali explained how these were formed, with tons of great 12+letter words such as sedimentation, jurrassic and mineralization, giving small details that really made us see and imagine the surroundings, 200 millions years ago! 
The fact that the prints are in the middle of the bush, in an actual river bed added to the magic. 
It was really impressive, very visual. There were tracks from the teropod type of dinos (like the T-rex and allosaurus) and enormous sauropods ones too (the brontosaurus type). 
And as a bonus, the walk and country were spectacular, we got to see a petrified forrest, the stars under the moonless sky were incredible, and the company was excellent. 
I have to admit that my cooking has been better, but hey!

Oh, and we managed to keep beers cold until the end. That's more than a bonus: its a skill, a talent and it makes the difference between life and good life. 
And we did not get mauled by a lion (althought the kids are still persuaded that a leopard tried to get into their tent whilst we were socializing around the camp fire).  
And they all got to drive the landie, which is quite a great experience when you are 12, mwhahaha. 

So a good trip it was, back in time, just a great way to spend a WE: time travelling, learning new stuff, camping and walking in the bush, great company, and unlimited sky above.
the only thing missing was a group of friendly swedish lingerie models,
my lovely wife

Monday, July 28, 2014

a sky a day keeps the doctor away

So my week's mentor, Prashant Miranda (re)commanded us to watch the sky and draw a sky a day. 
Well I should say that it is actually nice to do.
Especially since right now, winter in zim is synonymous with blue sky and total absence of clouds, which makes it somehow easier. 
So I finished my first batch and enjoyed it so much that I made my small boxes for the next one. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Practical guide to exit N'djili airport, Kinshasa

Getting out of Kin is a mild headache that takes time and cash. To the difference of my previous airport experiences, this one was the most procedural and long. 
Going to/ out of the USA is a pain, and immigration/ security officers there are really wearing the mask that fits their job. We had in that regard a wonderfull experience coming to Chicago after 46 hours travelling. We got to see and understand the humanity of a uniformed man who kept it professionnal whilst my 2 year old was relieving herself and was abundantly defecating on my wonderfull wife. They could only get clean after we completed our turn for the immigration interview. Obviousely no assistance could be given, it must be too much of a risk being in contact with kids (0,2,4 year old), or carrying luggages (too heavy and propably dangerous). 
There are other aiports where people are known for their capacity to make you feel guilty of something, whatever that might be. 
N'djili airport provides none of these guilt-moments: people are friendly, respectfull, facilitating the process for families and elderly people, really good in that way. And that humanity and contact makes the entire experience being tolerable. 
The Challenge of N'djili lies in the Kafkaian procedures one has to undergo to board the plane and get out of the country. Probably the most complex system I have been through.
My advise: spend the necessary 2'500 FrC (2.5usd) for an airport man who will help you going through the procedures step by step. Best money ever spend. 
It took me more than 3 hours with the help of the airport man to get everything sorted and be able to board the plane. The lenght was partially due to the no system situation, so all the tickets and luggages had to be done by hand, and partially due to the 17 controls and indispensable procedures that are strenghtening the belief that going in a plane is something special, one really should deserve and not consume. 
I join here some of the steps. The guide is for those who do not want to pay the airport guy, because they feel adventurous, or too stingy to pay him, or uptight on their right "not to have to rely on someone", generally combined with lavish criticisms about the way things operate here in the Congo. There was a frenchman in that category, I think that he spend his 3 hours getting angrier and angrier and telling everyone around how useless things where. Poor guy, he will make his shrink and heart specialist rich and happy. I feel you just poison yourself getting upthight for such small details.
In a way, unlike most aiport, N'djili provides entretainment and makes sure you keep busy and occupied from the moment you get there to the moment you jump in the plane. They make the wait go smooth, no need to feel bored sitting on an uncomfortable airport chair. Just for that I was happy to pay my 55usd exit taxes, althought I would have preferred if they were named them "Ndjili Entertainment and Occupation tax to help bored people wait for their planes".