That was how Christina woke me up in the middle of the pitch-black night. There was indeed sniffing, grunting and other very-large-animal noises going on just on the other side of the thin canvas on my part of the tent. As it turned out, it wasn’t a hippo, but an elephant family of 4, working their way around us, plodding through the mud and snapping branches to eat. Welcome to Liwonde National Park!
We’ve finished our first week of teaching. It has been very busy, particularly because all the materials need to be prepared. The schedule has congealed to a lecture in the morning, then teach in the OR until ICU rounds start. After rounds lunch, then prep time and a case presentation in the afternoon. The College of Medicine provides a driver to pick us up at the apartment in the morning and bring us back home in the evening, which saves a lot of time. Most evenings we have been on our computers for hours, preparing lectures and distilling the essentials that are applicable here from several textbooks, in particular the incomparable Oxford Handbook of Anaesthesia. Friday afternoon there was a full departmental meeting, and I gave a lecture. And then we set off for a few days of rest (we thought) in Liwonde, with a car and driver from the College of Medicine..
It was great – but far from restful. In fact, I’m more tired now than Friday afternoon… A quick run-down:
- Road between Blantyre and Zomba under construction. Driving on a parallel mud track, until all progress is stopped because of a head-on collision between two minivans somewhere ahead. Too far away to go help – and not sure what we could do anyway. Turn around in the mud, and head for Liwonde by another, and longer, route, which will get us there after dark.
- Driver does not like arriving after dark. Therefore goes 85 mph on an unlit 2-way road full of trucks, people, chickens and goats. Christina’s heart rate hits 120, and we provide each other with instructions as to what to do if we would survive the unavoidable crash but are tetraplegic (I want the vent off; Christina kind of likes the idea of getting all that attention)
- Find the lodge after some phone calls and meeting someone in the middle of a small town. Eat a good dinner, go to bed. Woken up in the middle of the night by the elephants.
- Next day, on canoe safari (the Shire river runs through the park and in the rainy season there’s plenty of swamp, with hippos and crocodiles). The two of us and a guide in a very small boat. Close-ups with hippos; Christina’s heart rate hits 120. Awesome experience of paddling through the swampy area: lots of birds, waterbuck, monkeys. Luckily no crocodiles.
Back to the lodge, sunburnt. In the evening Christina beats me at scrabble, then we sit around the fire chatting with the few other guests, and listening to the stories of the owner (who among many other things crashed with an overweighted airplane on exactly the same airstrip where we – Justin Ford, are you listening? – almost couldn’t take off because of our heavily loaded little Cessna). Unbelievable starry sky..
- Crash into bed. Hours later, woken up by Christina: now there really are hippos around the tent… Torrential rain in the middle of the night.
- Still raining in the morning. Supposed to go on a game drive, but the roads are impassable. A walking safari is proposed as alternative. Soon after, trekking a group of elephants. Christina’s heart rate hits 120. Liwonde elephants are described as “aggressive and nervous”. It is notable. Yesterday a safari vehicle from the lodge was charged by one. They look at us, flap their ears and occasionally trumpet. Luckily we get instructions on what to do when charged. Stand still, don’t move. It its keeps coming, sit down. Clap hands. Christina asks what happens if you don’t stand still, but run away. “Oh”, says guide, “then it will kill you. Charge speed is 40km/hr.” Heart rate hits 140 (OK: mine was at least 120).
- But we survive. It is an amazing experience traveling through the water-logged bush on foot and watching animals up close. More sunburn.
- Then, back to Blantyre. Buy mangos on the way. Quick inventory at home: electricity: check, hot water: check, cold water: no…
- Now, preparing lectures for tomorrow…