Lions of Luangwa

We were incredibly lucky to have come across a leopard in broad daylight on our very first day, but by our third day we were still to spot a lion. Well, our tactic of asking every game vehicle we cross paid off already in the morning when we met someone who was on his way to pick up guests and he had spotted a male lion sleeping right by the road. We followed his directions as best we could and soon found this lazy male lion sleeping in the shade by himself. We watched him while having our packed breakfast and eventually he rolled over, yawned, looked at us as if wondering what’s there to look at. Not the most exciting encounter, but an encounter nevertheless. We soon left him to carry on his lazy snooze.

We had earlier on, while aimlessly looking for lions, come across a pack of wild dogs. This was a real treat as wild dogs are one of Africas most endangered carnivore. They were very relaxed and watched us as much as we watched them.

After driving along the river, seeing a variety of animals, we crossed a Landcruiser carrying a film crew, and they were just returning from spending the whole morning filming a pride of lions, this was really our lucky day for lions! The man behind the wheel told us, without us even asking, that if we just continued down passed the giraffes and then followed the road on the right we’d come straight to a pride of ten lions. I always smile to myself at these directions as it’s not like there are clear straight roads, but rather winding tracks in all directions, despite this we managed to find this female only pride. Another car was just leaving and shortly after we arrived the lionesses simply got up from their shady spot by the river and walked into thicker bushes, I guess they had done enough posing for the day!

After such a succesful morning drive we felt like we’d seen it all. But at the gate the man on duty told us about the pride of four lions down by Puku ridge, this gave us appertite for more! In the afternoon we headed straight towards this area, which happens to have the most beautiful gravel road I’ve ever travelled on, but then again it leads straight to the former Presidential lodge! We stopped to take in the views and then started following the winding loops along the river. It was late afternoon when we spotted a game vehiacle in the distance and made our way towards it (yes, we crashed every fancy-safari party!) Sure enough, the guests in this car was sitting right below the ridge were the four lions were resting. A couple of other cars (using our tactics?) joined and we just sat and watched the lions have their afternoon nap. It was now time to make our way to the gate, selfdrivers have to be out by 18.00, but there was no way the kids would let us leave these lions! As if an alarm had rung the lions got up one by one and slowly made their way down towards the open plain, walking right beside our car! My heart was beating a little faster and I never saw the boys sit so still on the back of the car! We now really needed to start making our way back, but action was just about to start. We managed to somewhat get into a position from where we were able to watch the lions stalk a herd of buffalo, until one buffalo senced something in the making and signalled to the others that lions are in the grass. Instead of watching a pride of well tuned lions make a kill, we saw four lions running for the trees as the whole buffalo herd came following after! Unfortunately this was too far and too dark for me to even capture, instead I just enjoyed the live show. What an amazing last day we had!

The next day it was time to get up before the sun, pack up and hit the road. We drove out of Croc Valley camp at 06.00 and headed southeast to Chipata, taking the long but (somewhat) smother 12 hour drive home. This was our first time to visit South Luangwa NP (my husband came here as a child) and what an amazing place it is. We can’t wait to plan our next trip as there is a lot more on the Zambia bucket list!

The luangwa valley

After almost nine hours through the escarpments and the Valley we finally set camp on the other side of the Luangwa River at Croc Valley Camp. It was already three in the afternoon so we spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the river view. We had booked 4 nights at the camp, giving us three whole days to explore the park.

We spent the days mostly in the car, driving endless loops along the Luangwa River, covering on average 150 km each day. With an early morning drive, a late afternoon drive and a dip in the pool in between. Self-driving is a more affordable way to see the animals, but if there’s a hack it’s this; follow the game drive vehicles and stop everyone you cross to casually ask how the day is going and “any lion/leopard sightings today”? Most guides are happy to give you a few hints. We were lucky to find a leopard this way on our first game drive, after spotting not one but four game vehicles parked in one area. We drove around an open field and coming up close we could see what they were all pointing their lenses at; a leopard resting down in a trench. It was so relaxed and unbothered. We watched it come up and slowly walk away from the spectators.   

Side note: A couple of month ago I bought a 150-600 mm lens that I was going to use on his trip. We had driven some time from home when I realised I had left behind the little adapter needed to connect it to my mirrorless Canon, let me tell you I was holding back tears! I had to make do with my 24-105mm (and that’s on a full frame, so equal to about 15-70 mm on cropped sensor camera). Time and time again I thought to myself as I pressed the shutter “this would’ve been a great shot with the 600mm…”

The area around the camp and immediately across the river is absolutely packed with elephants (we had one munching away at the tree right near our tent at night), and I eventually only took out my camera if the light was right or if the scenery was different.

At one point we came across a dead elephant calf and its very sad and concerned looking mother, or so we thought! We watched them for a little while, the calf not moving an inch, and the mother not leaving its side. As we drove off we felt really sad, but also to be honest a little excited as we could expect to find vultures, hyenas and possibly lions by the elephant carcass in a few hours’ time. To our surprise there was not a trace of the elephant calf when we returned! It had simply been in a deep sleep, and we mistook the mother’s frustration with her lazy little one for sadness… 

Whichever direction we went we almost always came across buffaloes, either lone bulls or herds of various sizes. We had a close encounter as one bull charged us and only the revving of the car as my husband fumbled with the gears scared it off, that would’ve been a nasty dent in the door! As it took off my husband asked if I had caught it on camera! I told him I got it on camera as much as he got the car into gear…! I captured the bull as he aborted his mission!

There are also quite a lot of giraffes in the area, this graceful and weird looking animal, stretching high into the trees for fresh leaves, but struggling to bend down to drink.

We obviously saw a wide variety of animals on our drives besides what has been mentioned like Kudus hiding in the shade, waterbucks with their distinct toilet seat markings, zebras, impalas, warthogs with their tails like antennas, and a couple of hyenas, one right next to the road as it had taken shelter in the culvert meant for rain water.

The Luangwa Valley is such a spectacular place, with an ever changing landscape, animals of all sorts and peace and tranquillity to last a lifetime. Our last day was all about lions, more about that in my next post!

Kundalila falls and muchinga escarpments

We set out with the South Luangwa National park as our final destination early last Sunday morning, but had decided to break the journey by camping a night at the Kundalila Falls in Serenje. As we had gotten on the road in good time we had the whole afternoon there and after a packed lunch was devoured we headed down to swim below the falls. For some reason the water in this river is really cold, so it takes some guts to get in. The falls and the surrounding area is really scenic and beautiful with an amazing view over the landscape that is now turning red with the new leaves.

This was our third time here but the first to camp. The camp site is practically on the parking lot with access to a flushing toilet, but the warden had to carry buckets of water from the river to fill the tank! Unfortunately there is lots of littering around the area, even right down below the falls, plastics, broken beer bottles etc, sad that people can’t just enjoy something but have to spoil it in the process!

We lit a camp fire and just enjoyed the quietness, before we made it an early night. The following morning we got up before the sun to pack and get back on the road since we still had the bulk of our journey left. The Great North Road (T2) is quite pleasant up to the Kundalila turnoff but gets really bad shortly passed it. Hard to believe this is a main highway through Zambia!

When planning this trip we looked into the options for the route; there’s the Muchinga escarpments you have to either go around via North Luangwa or by going east to Chipata OR you can drive through/down following the 05! But that option is not for everyone or every car for that matter. After some consultation we decided that we would give the 05 a try. No photos or video clips can truly show what it entails; steep, rocky, sharp bends, driving in first gear, 4 wheel drive engaged. We stopped a couple of times just to take in the views. Once in the valley there are two river crossings, one on a lovely bridge, another through strong current on sandbags! It took us close to 9 hours from Kundalila to our camp on the other side of the Luangwa River, the last few hours that go straight down through the park are rather monotonous as it goes through thick bush and we had very few animal sightings along the way until we got closer to the Luangwa river where there’s elephants everywhere! All in all this route was fun and exciting and a great way to put your car and your driving skills to the test (my husband drove the whole way, maybe I’ll drive next time…)!

A blog post!

I don’t seem to be capable of keeping up the consistency with my blog, again a couple of months have passed without a single post from me. Then, I’ve been tied up helping my kids out with school work during another long stretch of school closure. A closure that, when announced, was supposed to last three weeks, but with little to no communication kept getting extended until the entire remainder of the term had been covered. The last postponement of reopening announced at 18.00 last  Saturday when we were all packed and ready to take kids to school the following Monday. Yes, there were a few tears out of sheer frustration on my behalf, not because I was so desperate to send my kids away, but because I’ve had to jump around like a monkey to get kids ready for home-school, then school, no continue with home-school, pack for boarding, nope, no-one’s going anywhere! And that’s me at home; I can only imagine how my kids’ teachers have been feeling!

Thankfully this last weekend served us with enough excitement to last for a while! Yes, I’m obviously taking about the elections! Held on the 12th of August, with all social media shut down for over 24 h (hello VPN), largely peaceful, with a few incidents of violence and even deaths, we were promised results within 72h. It was a nerve-wrecking wait, I kept up to date through live streaming on Facebook, but for the most part I wanted to stick my head in the sand until it was all over. I was, like so many others, hoping for change, but not wanting to expect it or take it for granted. Of course we couldn’t have expected what was to come, a landslide victory for the opposition! Now the work begins but even without any real change possible (our president-elect isn’t even sworn in yet) I sense there is hope and excitement in the air. I wish I had been able to go into town early Monday morning to document the celebrations taking place in the streets (final election results had been announced at 03.00 that morning) but as for me, I’m stuck at home, currently assisting my daughter with exams (“assisting” as in giving her correct exam papers at the correct time, nothing else!) and teaching the youngest two while keeping them from killing each other… Anyways, that’s the blog post for this time; hopefully it won’t take me two month until I write again!

Read more about the elections here:

Aljazeera: Zambians to vote in tense polls as economy struggles

BBC: Hakainde Hichilema: The Zambian ‘cattle boy’ who became president

COVID CENTRE HELL – by Laura Miti

I’ve written a number of posts touching on Covid now, and I try to keep up with the current state in Zambia, but this text here hit me in the gut:

By Laura Miti,

“I write this post for those in charge of the COVID response.

Having spent 10 days running around to save a friend, I discovered a disturbing situation that I am convinced administrators have no idea of.

It is that we are losing people to COVID in two ways:

  1. The illness itself – medical staff try their best to save a patient, but fail.
  2. A total breakdown of care when patients are hospitalised. Patients die from neglect, not COVID.

It is the latter I want to bring to light.

When a COVID patient is admitted, they are essentially taken into secrecy.

No one can see what is happening because COVID guidelines prevent the bedsider, that rock that holds up the Zambian health care system.

No visitors are allowed either.

I will speak of the Bauleni COVID Centre and Levy Mwanawasa High Cost – because those are the two I experienced.

The two centres are critically understaffed. There are times when there is one exhausted nurse for 20 – 30 critical patients.

They can’t cope.

So, other than oxygen, a patient can get next to zero attention.

In Bauleni, power goes. As in they get loadshedded.

Shockingly, relatives are not told that a simple extension cable that connects oxygen to the genset, can save their patient’s life.

By the time we discovered the vitality of the extension cables and delivered them, our patient’s oxygen saturation had plummeted multiple times.

His saturation fell from the 99 he achieved when he was first connected to the oxygen to 82, then a second time to 46, then 56.

He never went back over 80.

But that’s not what’s giving me hell.

It is that as his energy waned after the multiple times off oxygen, he begun to send texts begging me to get a nurse to feed him, give him water, pain medication. To help him wear something warm.

In desperation, we moved him to Levy Mwanwasa High Cost, hoping for better basic care.

Oh, the relief, when we left Bauleni.

Things got no better.

I’m thirsty, please get someone to give me water.

This message comes as you are stuck at home or outside. You can’t go in.

You shout at the door for a nurse to come. No one does. You call the number of a nurse you managed to get, they don’t pick up.

They are overwhelmed.

In the end, panicked out of my mind, I got myself a PPE and went in.

But I was too late.

He was thirsty, hungry, weak, in pain.

He needed to be at least on a drip.

But nothing.

I gave him water, fed him.

At some point, I noticed his oxygen bag was not inflating.

A nurse sitting by the bedside on the next bed (specially hired I think) tried to help while I searched for the nurse on duty.

A nurse on duty with 30 maybe 40 odd other critically ill patients, on the night.

The nurse finally came, but it took a while to discover that whoever had put more water in the oxygen gadget, had left it loose.

By the time the oxygen was reconnected, it was just a matter of time.

We lost him…not to COVID perse.

Please allow bedsiders. Dress them up in PPEs.

Hire nursing assistants to feed the patients. To give honest information to familes. To take medicine and food from relatives waiting outside, quickly.

It can take you an hour to get food to your patient.Then they are not fed immediately or at all.

Hire assistants so the nursing staff can concentrate on medication.

So our loved ones do not have to die unnecessarily painful deaths.

Oh God, it’s better not to know how your person died in a COVID centre.”

When covid hit Zambia there was so much talk about covid relief, money set aside from the national budget, millions of dollars pledged. Where is that money? Why are we failing so completely? And where are the vaccines? And the information campaigns (about 1% of the population has received a jab)? Our leaders seem more interested in winning the upcoming elections than saving the very people they are meant to serve.

Vaccine for the rich – third wave for the poor

It is now very clear to anyone following the latest Covid updates that Zambia is heading at full steam into the third wave of this pandemic. We recently watched the news in horror about the dire situation in India, now it seems to be Africa’s turn with several countries experiencing an explosion in both case-numbers and hospitalizations. Meanwhile we are seeing how Europe, country by country, and the US, is beginning to open up again. We read about the number of vaccine doses administered, 70 million doses administered in the UK, and over 6 million doses administered in Sweden just to mention two. Unfortunately we are not seeing these numbers in the so called third world or global south, in other words the poorer parts of the world got left behind in the vaccine race. When the first vaccines were launched it was every country for them self. It was a true display of pure capitalism; no money? No medicine! If you didn’t have the money; it was ‘get to the back of the line and kindly wait for handouts’. The fact that this whole third wave, predominantly hitting poorer countries that are already on their knees, could have been stopped if the will had been there is mindboggling and infuriating all at once. The governments of the richest countries, along with UN and WHO, could have made sure that the patent for the vaccines were made free, that the distribution of the vaccine wasn’t going to be based on who has the dollar but who has the most vulnerable populations, taking health care infrastructure in to account. Instead ‘big pharma’ were allowed to make a killing (no pun intended but hey) out of the vaccines. And the global south has no other option than to wait patiently for a handout from the Covax fund and others. But time is not on our side as numbers are multiplying as we speak. We hear reports of hospitals filling up fast in Lusaka, and lots of patients needing oxygen. As I’m writing this my family has been in isolation for a week as a family member tested positive for Covid, in fact it is a major outbreak on the farm with probably about 50% of the staff testing positive. Had we been on par with the richer countries that grabbed more vaccines than they needed, most of the people here would have had their second jab by now, instead it’s only a few of us (who ran when opportunity was given) who have received our first dose. What we have witnessed in the last six month is a true display of how the world is run, where rich countries grab what they want, poor countries are left behind and then indebted to the donors. It’s ironic that what we saw in the very early days of the pandemic, the stock piling of toilet paper, was more than just poo-paper-panic, it was a sign as to what lay ahead of us, where you grab more than you need and care less about what’s left for the less fortunate.

Zambia has become the country with the highest bi-weekly increase in cases in the world, as many of these figures are hard to get your head around I can highly recommend following the facebook page “Lusaka helps” (or join the group) as they do a great job in breaking all the numbers down. If you’re more of a number geek go to Reuters Covid tracker for all the latest global statistics. And if you too think it is wrong on so many levels that we have a vaccine for profit rather than a vaccine for the people go to Oxfam’s page to read how you can help and join in the action.

A hairy reality-check

Scroll down for an update!

Right now my hair is quite long and sits in a tight pony most of the time, but I’ve had it in all kind of lengths including a number 2 (as in 2 mm)! As I was looking for photos of myself in these different hairstyles, to try and decide what to do with my hair next, I found it quite entertaining looking at a younger me. It’s such a cliché but time does fly, look how young I was, 27 year old mother of two! I usually ask for input regarding what hairstyle I should go for and then do something else all together. People (including my kids) often tell me to keep my hair long, and this time I’ve kept it long for a while, but I’m getting bored now and it’s time for change. I really don’t understand how you can stick to the same hairstyle/length year after year! The fun part about hair is that it grows out again, so what’s there to worry about? Try something different next time you get to the salon, what’s the worst that could happen? Ok, they make a mess of it and you end up shaving your head as I did two years ago, but hey it grew back! Now you can tell me which one in of these styles I should go back to (I’m leaning towards 27 yr old me) and obviously you can’t say 38 yr old me…

And this one’s from that time I wasn’t happy with my cut and my husband helped me ‘sort it out’…! >>

Update: I finally got to a hairdresser a couple of weeks ago >

V for Vaccine!

Just got vaccinated!

When, about two weeks ago, Zambia finally launched the Covid vaccination with vaccine received through the Covax fund I thought to myself that we (non risk group) will be waiting long before getting a chance to receive the first of two jabs. But soon after the official launch and about a week of vaccinating health- and other frontline workers I started hearing about the drop-in clinic in Lusaka’s main hospital, apparently anyone could go. Soon after that it was announced that the vaccine would be available to anyone above the age of 18 even in Kabwe. Unfortunately from what I’ve heard the vaccine has been made available for anyone because too many are reluctant to go, even, or especially, those in the risk group (everyone over the age of 65, and people with pre-existing conditions). Come to think of it it’s no wonder, after all many still doubt that covid-19 even exists in Zambia at all, and in that case one wouldn’t see the benefit of a vaccine. I can understand why someone far out in rural Zambia would think like this, they haven’t perhaps seen the direct impact of the pandemic, but there are also many fairly well educated, exposed and “woke” people out there that are reluctant to take the vaccine because they’ve ended up going down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole (and man, that’s a deep hole!). Facebook friends sharing one article more outrages than the other. Anything from masks being the beginning of a totalitarian society to the Covid being part of a de-population plan! You can’t believe that the Covid pandemic is a hoax AND that it is man made, at least stick to one! It also doesn’t help that the Astra Zeneca vaccine (what’s used in Zambia at the moment) has had it’s challenges with reports of blood clots. These are however extremely rare (20 cases in every 1 million for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Abut 10 cases in every 1 million for people in their 50s and 60s, then about 5 cases in every 1 million for people aged 70 and above) and the risk of getting a blood clot from covid is in fact twice as high as getting it from the vaccine, also for people aged 25-55 the risk of dying from Covid is about double that of the risk of suffering severe complications from the vaccine, for people over 55 that number is 200! (yes, you are 200 times more likely to die from covid than having severe complications from the vaccine, read that again!)

Another point made from skeptics is the issue of “big-pharma” making a killing out of this, and yes, they are obviously laughing all the way to the stock market. But I’m not the one to believe they some how created Covid to make money from a vaccine. Guess I still believe in humanity too much for that. I do however think this should have been controlled by an authority such as the WHO or the UN in a way that every country could get enough vaccines fast enough. Now look at the horrific situation in India, this could have been prevented if vaccines had been made more accessible to the “global south”, instead we had to wait for Europe and the U.S. to eat, and they stuffed their faces, at the table first.

For us to stop or at least slow the continued spread and consequences of this pandemic we need a large portion of the population to get vaccinated. We don’t need to think only the risk group needs it, if enough of us, healthy people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, get the vaccine it will help, because it is largely spread by people in this group. I therefore think it is our responsibility to do our part and get the jab! I got mine on Tuesday this week. I went, together with my husband, to the Mahatma Gandhi clinic in Kabwe. We waited about 10 min for our turn, then a lady took our details and filled in a form before a nurse gave us the jab in the left arm. It took us all in all about 30 min. The side effects came at night as we both felt like we had a bout of malaria with joint/muscle ache, fever chills and just discomfort, already in the morning we were feeling better albeit tired. And the older you are the less likely you are to suffer severe side effects.

Let’s put the conspiracy theories aside and hold on to science, it’s the only way out of this pandemic. Get vaccinated!

Shifting gear

As someone passionate about photography I know how easy one gets caught up in the “gear race”, constantly looking at what the more established photographers use or what’s the latest release. Well, I’m no different, though I care less about what others shoot with and look more at what suits me. My Nikon D7100 has and is still serving me well, but it’s heavy with my 24-70 mm 2.8 Sigma (my all round event/wedding lens), so mirror less sounded like a more handy alternative. I’ve never been the brand loyal type and I wanted to get myself a Fujifilm, mainly cause it’s not as mainstream and it also stubbornly keeps to cropped sensors, but also because it’s almost like working with an analogue camera, more dials, less menus. As I found myself with some Swedish kronor in my account while we were in Sweden, I ended up getting myself the Canon Eos RP. The little sister to the R5 and R6. Perhaps not the wisest to change system so drastically, if you’re a Canon shooter you can use all your old lenses with the adapter. Now, here I am with only the 24-105mm it came with. But it’s a brand new day. I feel like I’m having fun, even just around the house. The colours are great and the camera is so light I keep checking my bag if the camera is actually in it! Next week I have a wedding shoot (yay, my first since before the pandemic!) and I think I will bring along the Canon, maybe play a little Nikon vs Canon by myself…! Here are a few shots from around the house: