The Lady in the Red Brick House in Malawi

As we drove by the houses in the Kawale, a neighborhood of Lilongwe, Malawi, all looked in order and similar. When we pulled up to the red brick house, we saw the front red dirt yard was barren except for a tree growing beside the house and 6 plastic tubs sitting around. DSC_0962A window was falling out of the house and there was no front door. A lady was standing in front of the tree and she was small, frail and not smiling.DSC_0042

The lady was Elizabeth Kamongo and we greeted her and one by one, we met her children, grandchildren and an adopted child. The children had arrived from school and were hungry like all school children. On the outside fire was a pot of maize porridge. The lady had it waiting for several hours but would not eat any of it until the children ate first because it was all the food she had for them that day.DSC_0034

The lady learned to let the children eat the porridge late in the day so they would not go to sleep hungry. And when she ran out of the maize/corn, she would walk about 20 blocks to her church and ask for money to buy another sack of maize for her family.DSC_0132 This we learned had been standard procedure for the lady for about a year because the Republic of Malawi in southeast Africa was experiencing a severe drought with no relief in sight.DSC_0967

When it rained, Elizabeth used to buy mangoes and fruits and sell them at the market. Now she doesn’t sell anything or make even a dollar per day.

The children looked to be making it ok and had on clean looking clothes. We did not learn if the children that went to school were receiving a meal at school. DSC_0978

As we greeted them all, we presented a gift of peanut butter and crackers and shampoo, rinse, body lotion and empty plastic bottles in which to store or carry anything. In that gift bag was enough money to buy another 3 months of food.DSC_0983 And Elizabeth then smiled for the first time for us. She was so happy and thanked and thanked and thanked us.

Elizabeth was 69 years old and had 5 of her 11 children living. But Elizabeth was raising and supporting 7 grandchildren and 1 orphaned child with no help except from the church. The 12-year-old girl, Angela, was adopted by Elizabeth after her parents died of AIDS. One daughter, Sabrina, lives with them because she is HIV positive with problems.DSC_0064

Her husband, a mechanic, died years ago, but she was able to get the red brick mud house built before he died. She made all the bricks in the house and it took 6 months in 1960. There is another house attached to Elizabeth’s house that she built as a rental apartment. But now she cannot rent it because she doesn’t have the money to make the needed repairs.

The white square spots are the light coming through the holes in the tin roof of Elizabeth’s house.

The 4-room house had one table and one chair in it but when they ate the porridge, they all sat on the dirt floor. On that dirt floor was one sack of maize/corn ready for the next month’s meals.DSC_0015

And when they slept, all 9 of them slept in the 3 beds that filled up the bedroom. DSC_0002The other 2 rooms served as storage rooms.DSC_0999 Covering the red brick house was a donated metal tin roof full of holes. So if and when it did rain, parts of the mud house would collapse from the water pouring on the brick walls. And then she would have to make more bricks and repair the area. The house had been repaired from that last rain but the tin roof was still full of holes.DSC_0988

The house has no running water from the hydrant in the front yard because Elizabeth could no longer pay the money for it. And there was no electricity and no bathroom/toilet facilities. Plus, there was no television, radio, refrigerator, or washing machine, nothing. When Elizabeth needs water, she goes to the house down the lane and pays a little for some water. She has no medical or dental providers. DSC_0038

The family plans to continue on until it rains. And then Elizabeth and the children will have more meals a day but the house will need repairs from the rain. And the children will be older and, hopefully, be able to take care of their mother/grandmother for the rest of her life and provide her with food.

Photo Copy ©  2015

Africa Botswana

Sleeping in the Desert On a Salt Pan

It was below freezing cold in total darkness in the middle of a desert in the winter solstice. DSC_0239We were sleeping alone in our beds out in the middle of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan with just the constellations of Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius and Capricornus, the Milky Way, the Southern Cross, Saturn, Mars, Venus, the Crescent Moon and the Seven Sisters all dazzling down at us like diamonds.DSC_0237

Our metal beds sat on top of a huge field of salt with a sleeping bag on top. Crawling into the sleeping bag under 4 heavy layers of comforter, blanket, sheet and the bag were so tight we could barely get in, much less turn over.DSC_0258 Plus, I had on 5 layers of clothes and a fur hat because it was below freezing cold in June in the winter in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana in the Southern Hemisphere.

I must be crazy to do this, I thought, as I made myself get into the ice cold bed with 2 Bush Babies (hot water bottles) fully clothed all alone in the desert.DSC_0262 It reminded me of my early days on the farm when I had to do the same thing in the winter. And then, I vowed I would never live like that again. Yet, I was doing it again because I always dreamed of sleeping in a desert just once.DSC_0279

But this was a very special time to be in the Kalahari Desert because it was the winter solstice with the Matariki as the Maori call the  beautiful star cluster in Taurus. It is also called the Seven Sisters or “the Pleiades” by Europeans. Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius were particularly distinctive. During the winter, the Sun is low in the daytime sky so any planets opposite the Sun are nearly overhead during the middle of the night, providing the best viewing of the year. And they were. Saturn and Mars and everything else in that night sky was so sharp, bright and clear that I felt a special connection to them.DSC_0250

When I was growing up on the farm far from a city in the Northern Hemisphere, my Daddy would have us spend several times a year in the total darkness to look at the wonderful sky full of constellations, planets and everything else. And I never dreamed I would do it in the Southern Hemisphere in a desert in a Salt Pan.DSC_0260

All of our tour members agreed to sleep in the desert.

To get to the Salt Pan from our Camp, we rode 4-wheeled ATVs in convoy.DSC_0125 June, my travel companion, drove the ATV while I hung on in the back with my face and head covered to keep out the dust. Cruising along at 25 MPH, I was hoping the entire time that I would not fall off as riding a dedicated path in the salt pan at 25 mph was a little bumpy for this first time ATV rider. DSC_0184

But it was awesome, exhilarating and like the freedom of riding a motorcycle.DSC_0126

After 10 minutes, our guide stopped to make sure all was going OK with us. It was, so we proceeded through the Salt Pan at 25 mph, riding in the middle of nowhere. On our next stop, our guide had us jump in the desert while he took a photo.DSC_0140DSC_0141 Since I didn’t jump, my guide took our photo together and the photo was a wonderful surprise. Then it was back on the ATV at 25 mph for 10 more minutes. 

Stopping again, our guide put a backpack 200 feet from us in the Salt Pan and then each agreeing person was blindfolded and had to walk to the backpack.DSC_0170Everyone ended up many feet away from the backpack, showing how humans lose all sense of direction when they do not see a landmark in the dark. This was to demonstrate the importance of placing our flashlight on the bed facing the toilet so we could follow our light beam back to our bed from the toilet in the middle of the night, if the need arose.

After our next 10-minute ATV ride, we stopped for an incredible experience of sitting alone over 100 feet apart on the floor of the Salt Pan facing the Sun.DSC_0195 Our assignment was to watch the Sunset in total silence, alone. It was beautiful, eerie, different, a special time to communicate with God, and to meditate as the sun sank into the horizon. 

Back on our ATV, we headed to our final stop, our “home in the desert” for the evening.DSC_0218 DSC_0222Waiting for us was an area for cocktails by a huge fire, dinner by candlelight with white tablecloths, glassware and candles, a toilet, and our beds, all very far away from each other.  Even farther away from all of this was the “kitchen” which the Lodge had set up to serve us.

After cocktails, we headed for the dinner table in the below freezing winter night.DSC_0223 But then we weren’t as cold since our waiter placed a shovel full of hot coals from the nearby fire under each person’s chair. Instantly, it was warmer and a much appreciated touch. And the delicious hot soup, hot main course and dessert made us even warmer and ready for our sleep in the desert.DSC_0279

Our beds were waiting for us all alone in the Salt Pan. And now was the moment we had waited for so long. Amazingly, we slept soundly and warm all night and awoke at first light just in time for breakfast. And we were happy, thankful, pleased and at peace with our once in a lifetime winter experience in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan in the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. 

Photo Copy ©  2015 

South Africa

Peanut Butter & Jam Sandwiches Make Happy Kids in South Africa

At 2pm each Wednesday, hundreds of young children come running from every corner of the Leseding Township for singing, spiritual fellowship and nutritious food other than their day-to-day corn porridge.DSC_0363 All 600-700 of these kids are talkative, mannered and happy as the Letabo (Happy Place in their Sesotho language) Kid’s Club, is about to begin.

One by one, they eagerly fast walk into the Adoni Christian Church building DSC_0445where up to 10 children sit per bench for their weekly club meeting. Young children up to age 10 from the Leseding Township in Vaalwater, South Africa come for Christian education, friendships, soccer and those peanut butter and jam sandwiches(PB&J) with milk.

Marilyn Cook Missionary in South Africa
Marilyn Cook Missionary in South Africa

With donated funds, Marilyn Cook, director of the Kid’s Club who has been a USA missionary for 48 years in South Africa, buys 90 loaves of bread, 12 kilograms (almost 2 pounds) of peanut butter and 900 grams (1.98 pounds) of jam to make those sandwiches. And she buys the 80 liters (21 gallons) of fresh whole milk from a local Vaalwater farmer. DSC_0536 Total per sandwich and one serving of milk is 2.50 South African Rand or 25 ½ cents USD

Began in 2001 as a soup kitchen, the Letabo Kid’s Club leadership was assumed by Marilyn when the previous lady had to leave because of health issues.

Photo by June Landrum
Photo by June Landrum

In 2002, the weekly soup kitchen was boycotted by the neighborhood children because it was a hot summer day and they did not want hot soup.DSC_0670So, PB&J sandwiches and milk were offered and the children happily returned to eat those sandwiches. The meetings grew then from 15-30 young children to 600-700 today and growing everyday.  At Christmas time, the club attendance numbers up to 2,000 kids.DSC_0571

The Kid’s Club began meeting in a tent, and the meetings were going just fine until the tent blew down and was destroyed in a 2010 storm.

Photo by June Landrum
Photo by June Landrum

So then a roof covered concrete slab was built and it worked well for 3 years until the new church building was built in its place. DSC_0580A veranda-patio was later attached to the church building for serving food and other social activities. And the kids love their new church building for their gatherings.

At the Kid’s Club meetings, youth under 10 sing gospel songs in English/Sesotho and Bible stories are told to them in Sesotho.DSC_0453 In addition, they learn about and perform a story from the Bible at each meeting, and say the Lord’s Prayer in Sesotho. DSC_0474Taught by one of the young pastors, the children say a prayer thanking the Father for their food.

After the club activities, it is now time to eat and row after row of children line up next to the food on the veranda for that PB&J sandwich and a glass of milk.DSC_0522 DSC_0427

Immediately, some take a huge bite of the sandwich but many just guzzle the entire glass of milk first.DSC_0646

The outstanding result of the Kid’s Club is that the older youth help set up benches, tables, and microphone, and make the sandwiches. DSC_0531DSC_0583

Then they serve the sandwiches and milk to the children followed by cleaning the dishes and the church building to its original condition.

“It wasn’t like this in the beginning,” Marilyn said, “But our teachings about helping others and being an outstanding person have caused the older 10-18 year-olds to help the younger ones by showing them love and the love of Jesus, and to treat them with respect.”DSC_0520

As a reward for their work and compassion, the older children are given extra bread, boloney, and fruit drink to eat. “The older children are hungry also so we have extra food for them in case the PB&J sandwiches are gone,” Marilyn explained.  “Even the youngest child wants to help even though many of them barely can carry a bench.” DSC_0607DSC_0426

In the beginning, they just wanted to be a part of the event and help others,” Marilyn said. “But now, they also are being rewarded for their work and compassion with the extra food and more and more children are attending and getting into the joy of serving.”DSC_0617

Marilyn points out she receives great joy from helping these children because “they are happy little kids while learning to know Jesus as their friend and they are getting good nutritious food.” Photo by June Landrum

Bible Study is also being taught on Saturday for the 10-14 year-olds and for the older ones 15-30. Up to 50 of the younger ones attend the studies. They call themselves the “Revolution” and they bring their younger siblings with them. Cake baked by Marilyn is served at the end of the class. And if she doesn’t have time to bake the cakes, she serves cookies/biscuits.

Photo by June Landrum
Photo by June Landrum


Marilyn also edits a magazine THE SOURCE for St. John the Baptist Community Church, which is located in the bush, 20 Km (approx. 12.5 miles) from Vaalwater, South Africa. “People from all over the world come to this church and they overwhelmed by the casual yet deep spiritual messages and fellowship,” Marilyn pointed out. Her magazine can be viewed on her website, where donations can also be made. DSC_0463

So thanks to Marilyn and her 48 years as a missionary serving the disadvantaged peoples of South Africa, many children in the township have a nutritious meal at least once a week along with Christian education and fellowship.DSC_0436 And they keep coming from all over and lining up in advance for the 2 pm Kid’s Club meeting each Wednesday and those PB&J sandwiches with milk.

Photo by June Landrum
Photo by June Landrum

Donations may be made to Marilyn Cook so she may continue her missionary work in South Africa. Her 5013C agent in the USA is Brian and Lois Lund, Mission to South Africa, PO Box 50063, Casper, WY  82605.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

Photo by June Landrum
Photo by June Landrum

Photo by June Landrum

Rwanda Uganda

Touched by a Gorilla in Uganda and Rwanda

This little fur ball baby is just too cute!

They were so fat, so hairy and so cute that watching them up close for one hour eating breakfast, nursing, romping, swinging, doing acrobatics, play biting each other, chest beating and grooming was total exhilaration to the max.

How cute is this one!
How cute is this one!
My sedan chair and porter crew. It was fun!

The babies were so precious with a body full of black thick bushy hair and each troop we visited had up to 3 babies in it. Watching the “R” (Rushegura) group in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda and the “K” (Kwitonga) troop in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda for one hour each was a dream.

Preparing the Stretcher Basket for me in the Irish Potato field. Emmy Maseruka, my guide to see the gorillas, coordinated everything for us to make sure all went perfect in Uganda and Rwanda. He now has his own Safari Company at and can be reached at for safaris all over southern Africa.


Fortunately for me in both treks, I visited the closest gorilla troop living in the forest because I was carried up the mountain in a Sedan chair in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Climbing uphill has always been very difficult for me and the sedan chair was the solution to fulfill my dream of seeing the mountain gorillas in the wild. And the porters didn’t drop me even when going over a creek with a very narrow wooden bridge. Eight porters, two on each of the 4 support poles carrying the chair rotated often, carrying me over bridges, into brush at 45 degree angles, following the forest terrain and did what it took to reach to the “R” gorillas.

Momma and her precious little one.
Momma and her precious little one.
It’s only a yawn!

At Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the handicap method was also used but a stretcher basket this time took me right to the first gorillas group in the mountains. The wonderful handicap service has an extra fee in both parks but it allowed me to enjoy the mountain gorillas in the wild with the other 7 persons allowed to visit that troop that day.

Eating breakfast in a another location in the dense forest vegetation.
Eating breakfast in a another location in the dense forest vegetation.

Arriving to where our troop was at each park took 30 minutes to 1 hour and then I walked on the level ground, took photos and enjoyed the gorillas. And enjoy, I did. It was worth every penny DSC_0512spent to see 24 gorillas in Bwindi and 18 gorillas in Volcanoes of the remaining 800 severely endangered mountain gorillas in the wild. When the troop members knuckle-walked through the dense vegetation, I moved with them and our group with a personal porter who carried my backpack and helped me through the thick vegetation so I wouldn’t fall.

Romping, rolling, grunting, barking, biting, and chest beating with another teenage gorilla.
This little one slapped me. Look at those teeth!

It was while I was taking photos of a young juvenile gorilla in Volcanoes National Park that he/she suddenly walked up to me and slapped the right chin of my leg. It was just a baby slap and didn’t hurt but it was a surprise because one gorilla actually touched me!! One of our 4 trackers said he just wanted to play with me. But he went right back to where he had been sitting. So I didn’t try to play with him The troops we visited were habituated to humans, yet they live up in the mountain and are free roaming. I wasn’t scared one minute while viewing them because they were so awesome and cute.

Knuckle walking through the forest to another site for breakfast.

At Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the “R”, 24 member-troop moved by knuckle walking only once after coming down one at a time from the Fig Tree where they were eating leaves for breakfast. It took 30 minutes to reach the tree from the camp and we stood and watched them eat for 30 minutes. The one hour time limit began once the gorillas were all on the ground.

The first gorilla down from the tree in Bwindi was a younger member of the troop who decided to walk right between June and me. We were surprised that we could get inches from a gorilla because we were told to stay 15 meters from them and do not touch them. TDSC_0463hat gorilla walked right between us like we weren’t even there and continued on beyond us nonstop.

The Silver Back babysitting his youngest offspring. Priceless!
The Silver Back babysitting his youngest offspring. Priceless!
The first one down from the Fig Tree knuckle walked right between June and me and acted like we were not there.

Photo taking was excellent in Bwindi because the gorillas remained in one place, the sun was shining and they were still eating vegetation. It was more difficult to take photos in Volcanoes as the young troop members were all playing, biting each other, chest beating, rolling and play fighting, swinging and nursing, plus the vegetation was all around them making it difficult to get a clear photo of the gorillas.

Mother nurses her little one until 21 months old. Notice her right hand caressing the baby’s neck and back.

Seeing a Mother nursing her baby in Volcanoes was the highlight of the trek for me. Having seen many animal mothers nursing their babies, I didn’t expect to see the Mother Gorilla caressing, petting, stroking and rubbing her baby’s head and back while it nursed. It was such a tender, precious moment that really made me see that gorillas are 98% human DNA and so much like us.DSC_0618

After the nursing, we changed locations to see another silverback in full view eating vegetation in the sun in Volcanoes. This ruling silverback of the troop weighed 200 kilos or 440 pounds, our Park Ranger told us. He was huge and the size of a human.

Our one hour viewing was up in Volcanoes National Park and on the way to my basket stretcher my porter with a machete helped me negotiate the dense vines and vegetation. Suddenly, he said to me “there is a gorilla right beside us,” and I looked and there it was. I was so surprised I stumbled and fell to the ground like I was sitting down and continued into a back roll which helped make the fall painless and easy without injury.DSC_0773

Off we go through the Irish Potato fields to the base camp where it all began.

Getting up quickly, we continued on to the basket stretcher and down the mountain through a potato field full of people harvesting Irish potatoes by hand to the base point where it all began. We were so happy that we had used Bestway Safaris and Tours to put this tour together for us because it was excellent and a dream come true. Our guide was Emmy Maseruka of

The final gorilla trek was over but not the memory of those furry and bushy haired black mountain gorillas. Hopefully, their enemies-the leopard, Ebola virus and other illnesses, forest clearing and poaching-will not destroy them so they can be removed from the severely endangered list soon and still be able to live in the wild in the Uganda and Rwanda mountains for the entire world to enjoy like I did.

Photo Copy ©  2015 

The wonderful porters who helped all 8 of us in our trekking group in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our trek would not have been successful without them.
The wonderful porters who helped all 8 of us in our trekking group in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Our trek would not have been successful without them.
The Black Back was wanting to mate with the female but he was very cautious because if the silver Back found out, he would be in grave danger for his life. So he did not mate this time.
The Black Back was wanting to mate with the female but he was very cautious because if the silver Back found out, he would be in grave danger for his life. So he did not mate this time.


Juvenile gorilla riding it's Mother's back through the forest.
Juvenile gorilla riding it’s Mother’s back through the forest.






Eating With Elephants in Botswana

Driving into the bush in the middle of the Okavango Delta from Stanley’s Camp, we saw nothing. Lisa, a vet student studying in Botswana, came and took us for a walk in 2 ft. high grass until we came to 3 elephants just standing unleashed in the wild eating acacia tree leaves, grass and anything they could find. The elephants were Jabu, Marula, and Thembi, 1 male and 2 female. Jabu, the male, was at least 15 feet tall. The females were smaller and more “feminine”. All were orphans that were rescued from culling operations from their family herds. We stood as far away from them as we could and still be with our  Abercrombie & Kent group.

Doug Groves, the keeper of the elephants, introduced himself and the elephants as we stood in the grass spell bound and frightened. We were taking photos like mad and noticed our hands were shaking. Getting that close to wild, unleashed elephants just about freaked us out. Hyperventilating now, I was so scared but I didn’t want Jabu to figure it out. Elephants are very smart animals and can retaliate.

Doug started teaching us about elephants that can live for 70 years. While shooting an American film involving elephants in the area in 1988, he became interested in elephants. With his wife, Sandy, they adopted Jabu, a 2-year-old, and formed Grey Matters for visitors to interact with his elephants and to create harmony between elephants and people. They have devoted their lives to the elephants and can only be away for a day or two because they miss him so much.

The 3 elephants have already saved his life in the bush when a lion went after Doug. The 3 elephants placed themselves between Doug and the lion and put their heads down to the ground. The lion backed off. Jabu is now 25 years old and his name comes from jaublani, which is Zulu tribe word for happiness. Jabu loves people and new challenges.

Elephants do things with their sensitive trunk that is so exact it can pick up a pea, show alarm by blowing air through it, rumbling for communication, or for eating. Then, Doug showed us a gland on the side of Jabu’s head that was draining between the eye and the ear. This shows the elephant is in musk and ready to mate. When the ear flap edge becomes torn and notched, it shows an elephant is older.

Their teeth also help with guessing the age. An elephant has 5 sets of new teeth in their lifetime because they grind them down from chewing. “Teeth come in the mouth like a conveyor belt, one after the other.”And this continues until around 50 years old. After that, the elephant dies when the last set of teeth is gone because it cannot eat without teeth. “Elephants eat and poop their entire waking hours.”

One at a time, Doug invited us to greet Jabu and to touch his skin. He told us to only approach Jabu from the left side. I have touched an elephant and knew what it felt like, so I decided to touch Jabu.. He had about 4-5-inch long hairs on his trunk which was hard to see as they were scattered evenly over the trunk. They act as antennas to indicate how close the trunk is to something.  Shorter hairs are all over their body, but the hairs are every few inches apart. They are not like hair or fur, they are like wire.

How Doug talked to Jabu amazed me. He talked so softly to him because elephants don’t like loud noises. Doug told Jabu to “come over here”to be closer to us about 5 times before he acted. But, from then on, he minded Doug on every command and worked like a perfect team. He never hit or hurt them in any way. He told Jabu to open his mouth and he did and Doug showed us his teeth and tongue. Then Doug told him to show us how he trumpets when he is alarmed and Jabu blew his trumpet sound so loud it scared me even further. Next he told him to make a rumbling sound which is how they communicate with each other and us, and he rumbled.

Watching the 2 work together was just like a symphony and it helped me to warm up and be more comfortable around Jabu. Doug offered Jabu for photos holding onto his tusks and finally Tom agreed. The tusk is an extensionof the teeth-bone system. Next, Jabu showed us some of his hat snatching tricks. It was such a cute trick. So, everyone was offered the opportunity to do the trick with Jabu.

By now, I was beginning to believe I could trust Jabu as Doug had showed us how to interact with him. I offered so Jabu took off my safari hat with his trunk, put it on his head and then put it back on my head. His trunk was heavy as it bore down to put my hat back on my head!

Marula was next to show her stuff while Jabu ate in the bush. Marula and a male elephant were owned by a Botswana couple who got them from culling operations during the 1980s Zimbabwe drought. Meant to be pets to the couple, the male killed a man so he was sold to a park in South Africa. The Park owners decided the only solution was to destroy him after he killed 7 white rhino and flipped over a vehicle. Marula was not implicated in the rhinocide but she wasn’t happy and became antisocial. Doug took Marula in 1994, baggage, bad behaviors and all, and trained her and gave her a good life. She showed us some of her features like Jabu did. Doug said Marula is his Princess.

Marula was taken to a small tree to eat. Elephants can eat everything on a tree—the bark, the limbs, the leaves-all of it. We watched them chew up entire large limbs like they were candy, and eat huge sections of grass like it was nothing. They can each drink up to 200 liters of water per day.

Thembi was next and is the youngest of his 3 elephants. Orphaned in Krueger National Park in South Africa, Thembi is short for Thembigela, Zulu for “trust”. She is a sweetheart, and even though she is the smallest, she loves attention, loves to be with the other 2, and gets nervous when she is not. Thembi considers herself the protector of the herd. When he got her, she was lonely and not adjusted. She would tear up trees to take out her frustrations.  Now with Doug, she has self respect, feels she belongs and is very sensitive.

So Thembi had to show us how she sleeps each night and how she gets down and up. First it was the back legs that bent and it looked like she was sitting on her knees.  Then it was the front legs that bent and she was down on the ground. The head and truck followed and she was totally laid out on the ground. Elephants sleep about 5 hours each day and his 3 stay in an enclosure by his house there in Botswana.

With Thembi totally laid out on the ground, he showed us her feet. It was our first time to actually see the bottom of a wild elephant’s foot and their toenails. Doug invited us to touch and inspect her foot. It was not smooth and kind of looked like cracked and dried mud caked on some parts and nothing on other parts. I had purchased a footprint of the elephant I rode (Damiano) in Zimbabwe, so that was the only “footprint” I had seen. Seeing an elephant lying down instead of standing tall and dominating over us all was an eye opener.

After 2 hours, we left and the 3 elephants waved goodbye with their trunks. It was another priceless moment. And as we drove by them on the way to our bush lunch, Lisa was sitting on top of Jabu who had been taught to lift his right leg up so Lisa could get up and down.

To get to the bush lunch, we had to “go swimming” in our safari Land Rover in the Okavango Delta which was 4-6 ft. deep and still rising in June.  Stanley’s Camp provided us with a buffet lunch out in the wild bush underneath a mangosteen tree. While we were having pre-lunch cocktails, they joined us in our bush luncheon.

That’s right. Those 3 huge elephants came marching in right next to our table and ate lunch while we ate lunch!!!  Tears came into my eyes as I observed and participated
in this magnificent event. Never before had I ever had such a wonderful adventure with elephants, much less to have lunch with the elephants. It took a few moments to process what I had just seen and was experiencing. Workers brought in big blocks of hay and a plastic trash can with special pellets for each elephant. Their food was set in 3 separate piles just like our plates of food for each one of us. Doug stood by Jabu’s pellets for about 5 minutes while Marula and Thembi ate theirs because “if Jabu ate the pellets at the same time as the females, he would eat his fast and then go steal Marula’s and Thembi’s! And when all of us finished eating everything, the elephants just stood there perfectly while Doug answered our many questions.

We were sitting at the end of the table closest to the elephants 15 feet away and we ate with them behind us. I trusted the elephants by now and felt comfortable enough to turn my back on them. Then, Lisa told us to move about one more foot apart and we didn’t know why.

But soon we found out. All of a sudden, Jabu put his trunk between us. I just about lost my breath. Talking about a heart beating so fast, my blood pressure must have shot straight up!  I could only think of the things that could go wrong at that moment and I began to write my headline again “Tow killed by bull elephant in Botswana.” The entire photo session with Jabu only lasted about 2 minutes but it seemed like an eternity to me. I was so relieved when he backed away yet I was so honored that Jabu would pose in a photo with us at the table and that we could experience this gentle giant and his 2 female friends. All 3 truly gave us a priceless moment that can’t be duplicated. As we left our bush lunch, the 3 elephants were waving “Goodbye” to us with their trunks!

Photo Copy ©  2015 

Africa Tanzania

Maasai Cows, Children & High Jumping in Tanzania

After leaving Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, we spotted a group of women and children on the side of the road, each carrying a container of water on top of their head. On the other side of the road were 3 young boys herding goats. Adam, our Maasai guide with Proud African Safaris, stopped to talk with them and to give each one a package of cookies and a bottle of water. They were out doing their daily duties for their village and had no food or water with them. After a short visit, we continued on to their village, MBuyni.

Twelve older ladies and 6 Warriors welcomed us into MBuyni Village near Arusha, Tanzania. But, before I could do anything, the ladies had draped a 4×4 ft. maroon square cloth, the clothes that the Maasai wear, around me and put one of their beautiful handmade bead collars around my neck. That is when I noticed the smell. The Maasai ladies smelled of an odor when they tied the blanket around my body. The odor was distinctive and one I had never smelled except on the Maasai. It was not perspiration or any normal body odor. The blanket tied at my shoulder just reeked of the smell and it was a rotten, rancid smell.

But I didn’t have time to solve the smell problem because the ladies were pulling me into the Adumu, the high jumping dance of the Maasai with the deep chanting rhythmic song. The men lined up and started that rolling chant, then, the high jumping followed where 1-2 junior warriors got into the center to show their jumping skills. Their bodies were rigid and their faces were deep in concentration as they jumped 2-3 feet in the air. The chant recalled legendary cattle raids, battles and deeds of brave men. The Junior Warrior who jumped the highest won the dance.

Adam must have said the magic words to the village junior elder or the ladies needed an extra hand because I was then asked to help them carry in the logs they had gathered that day from the surrounding area. On top of my head, a lady placed a cloth rolled in a circle topped with a 6 ft. log on top of the cloth. It didn’t hurt my head at all and I figured out that the cloth made my head flat so the log would not fall off. It was much easier than I expected and I soon learned that I could walk and balance the log at the same time. And so I walked about 1 block into one of the Maasai’s round plaster houses with a thatched roof.

Having succeeded at that, I now was on a high that I could do many things Maasai, but I stopped at their offer to milk a goat. It was time for them to show me how they milk a goat into a calabash (gourd) and then add blood from a young calf to make the protein-rich milk-blood drink that is consumed on 3 special occasions;  at child birth, when a person is sick and when a boy is circumcised.

First, they caught a calf in the kraal, a pen to hold livestock that is made of acacia tree thorn branches piled on top of each other to make a 3-4 ft. barrier and built by the men. A heifer was caught and a rope tied around its neck so the blood would pool up and the warrior then hit the bulge of blood using a bow and arrow and the blood squirted right into the calabash. Then, they caught a goat and milked it into the calabash gourd. Now they had the important Maasai ceremonial drink.

I still had more questions so I met with the village Junior Elder and several of his wives in his house. It was an interesting feeling being inside the round house with nothing but wives and log walls and ceiling. First I met the number one wife and she sat perfect in her chair and did not move the entire time. She had on a big white beaded collar and was a beautiful lady but she never smiled. And more wives followed. I understood that a Maasai could have as many wives as he could afford. Then we met 2 other ladies who were friendly, smiling and welcoming.  Formalities out of the way, the Junior Elder and I sat on stools and began our visit.

Circumcision was the first question and he answered candidly. Every 7 years is “the season” for circumcision, signifying the passage of male childhood so all males within a certain age are included in the ceremonies. Circumcision of females is not performed often these days.

At 5 a.m. they enter a creek or river to get their body cold, and exit to let the blowing wind cool and numb the body further so less pain is felt. At 6 is time for the procedure. Now called a Moran, new recruits to the rank of warrior, herbs are placed on the incision and the pain begins. A man does not show pain in his eyes or on his face so a male who shows no pain brings honor to his parents.

Several days of feasting, drinking and celebration follows the circumcision where the blood-milk drink is consumed by the new Moran. The Morani are given only a 3×3 ft. black square fabric to wear, plus the ostrich feather headdress. Their faces must be whitened with chalk for up to 2 months while the Morani make it on their own to prove manhood and to pass into the first age-set of the Maasai. The young Morani begin to grow their hair and regularly apply red ochre that they get from the bark of an acacia tree. They cannot be around the village when healing. Following the 2-month period, the ceremony to bless the new warriors takes place.

When I was in Tanzania in 2004, I spotted 4 Morani walking on the side of the highway to Ngorongoro Crater wearing their black blankets, white faces and begging for a ride and money. I mentioned this to our Maasai elder game driver on the Tauck World Discovery Tanzania Safari who said if the boy’s parents knew what they were doing, there would be deep punishment. The boys must stay away from people and their village and make it on their own for up to 2 months in the wild to prove manhood and to prove no pain. Eating in their mother’s house and sisters watching them eat is forbidden.

When I visited a Maasai boma village in northern Tanzania on that same trip, we saw 6 Morani boys in their black blankets, white faces and Junior Elder in charge of them. It was not explained to us why they were in the village during their “proving manhood period”.  The Adumu high jump dance and singing that goes with it are performed regularly before and after the Moran age. In the past, killing a lion and cattle-raiding expeditions were a popular test of bravery. Nowadays, they have been outlawed so Morani spend much of their time in mock battles.

The senior warriors graduate to junior elders at the Eunoto ceremony, where the Morani arrive in full regalia every 15 years. Their heads are covered in red ochre, with the lion’s mane and ostrich feather headdress. Maasai gather from all over to participate in the ceremony, where the Moran’s mother shaves his head, cutting the ties of warrior hood.

Our visit ended and it was time for us to make it to Arusha, Tanzania. But before I could leave, I had to find out what the smell was on the Maasai women. Adam clued us in on the secret; the ladies rub cow milk butterfat all over their skin to protect them and to keep the skin soft .  After a while, the butter spoils and gives off the rancid odor from their beautiful sultry satiny skin.

Africa South Africa

Making Beer in a Cardboard House

“They want you to see how they live and that they are making it despite all the odds,” the tour director said as he took us on a visit to see creative, successful small businesses in Cape Town, South Africa.

Two ladies from the Xhosa tribe in South Africa, faces whitened with calamine lotion, invited us into their home where they were making beer in old oil drums and selling the home brew by the gallon to anyone who would buy it. Turns out, 12 men sitting outside their house did drink the custom brew and they drank and drank and drank as they passed the bucket and each one took a huge sip until they passed out.

Then our tour group was invited to have a seat inside the 15×15 foot house for a visit. I sat on a wooden bench near the door and leaned back to relax on the wall. And when I did, I almost fell through the house. It was then that I realized the house walls were made of cardboard. And as I looked around, I saw the roof was plastic and the floor was dirt. As we visited, the 2 ladies offered all of us a gallon bucket full of beer to sip on and all agreed the home brew was good.

Several doors down, we visited a sheep-head barbecue business, where the split heads were cooked open butterfly-like on an old oil drum and customers loved them. The fire and home was made from scraps of wood obtained anywhere possible and the sheep heads were obtained free from the local meat plant. From these heads, the family was making it.

We met a man selling souvenirs from his street stand and a lady selling fruit inside her concrete block store, which was built to provide permanent shops for these businesses. But there were more “temporary” shops than permanent ones.

The final visit was with the medicine man and, as I entered his home, I couldn’t see a thing, including the medicine man. But when I took a flash photo, I got a picture of a wooly haired cave man-type person in a fur cap with all of his potions, animal parts and furs stuffing the room almost to capacity. It was a grand, heart-warming tour of people making it in the Langa Township slums of Cape Town, South Africa.

Africa Namibia

Climbing Big Mamma in Namibia

There are sand dunes and then there are sand dunes, but I had never seen a sand dune  like “Big Mamma” in Sossusvlei, Namibia, in Africa, home of the world’s tallest sand dunes. Located in the Sesriem-Sossusvlei National Park in the Namib Dessert, I knew how tall the sand dunes were when I started to climb the ridge and had trouble seeing the top. I made it to “Big Mamma” but I could barely walk with each foot sinking 6 inches into the sand.

So, I sat on the sandstone boulder at the base of “Big Momma” and watched the others huff and puff to the top.  Climbing the 1069-foot 45-degree angle sand dune caused group members to stop to rest several times during the 15-minute climb. At the top, wind-made red star dunes were seen everywhere. After 15 minutes of walking the crest, the guide, now barefooted after removing his shoes and socks, said it was time to go down.

“How”? Each one asked.”  “Slide down barefooted” was the answer and all replied, “No way”. But the guide persisted with his fast, easy and quick decent method.  So, all slid down standing up and barefooted on the other side of the dune in one minute flat. And they landed beside the dry, white vlei, the flat clay pan (lake) next to Big Mamma.

“It was like flying,” one said.  The early morning dark shadows, plus the sun shining on the red sand dune sea, were a priceless scene. Still on that Big Mamma “flying high”, all was able to walk to the champagne brunch awaiting them underneath an Acacia tree, compliments of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises tour. And 360 degrees around that breakfast were the greatest and tallest sand dunes in the world and dozens of hungry desert cape sparrows waiting for their morning snacks.

Africa Togo

Pleasing the Gods by Voodoo in Togo

When I arrived at the Voodoo ceremony in Togo in West Africa, two white powdered-faced women in grass skirts shuffled around and around to the beat of pulsating African drums.

In progress was a traditional Voodoo ceremony and hundreds watched the 10 participants performing in 3-ring circus style. Fifty million world-wide voodoo followers believe in one immensely powerful supreme god beyond their reach, causing them to rely on hundreds of spirits to communicate with their god.

During a ceremony, the Voodoo followers ask the spirits for advice, protection or assistance. The followers show respect to their god by performing rituals, some in the form of animal sacrifice.

A live chicken was buried with a clay pot in a 2-foot deep hole. Ten minutes later, they dug the chicken out alive. Then, the chicken was put on the head of a young boy and a sling shot rock caused the chicken to fall limp. The chicken’s head hung down to the boy’s nose and a final shot was fired at the boy’s face, hitting the chicken. The sacrifice was complete.

Then a 2-year-old child was taken from its mother and put in a plastic basket by the chicken hole. Screaming and crying, the baby was rescued suddenly by the mother. After weaving vines into a 5-foot rope, 2 men hang the screaming and crying young boy on the rope and carry him, then let him go. In another ritual, a grass skirted man heated an orange liquid on a fire and rubbed it over his upper body. Color, food and plants are used to pay tribute to their god.

Another part of Voodoo is possession and participants fainted, fell to the ground rubbing their faces in dirt, and ran screaming waving arms in belligerent manner. Witnessing the cradle of Voodoo for hours in Togo, West Africa, with Regent Seven Seas Cruises almost put me in a possessive trance, without the white powdered face and grass skirt.

Africa Tanzania

Bird Stealth Bomber Dive in Tanzania

In Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, our Tauck World Discovery tour group was having a picnic in a bush area of the crater.  We knew the lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, leopards and rhinos were all around us as we had just seen them.

The tables were set with beautiful red tablecloths, white china, silver ware and wine glasses.  A buffet was waiting and meats were being cooked on site so we each placed our custom order.

The chef placed the huge steak on Victoria Vance’s plate and she proceeded through the buffet line adding salads, fruits and vegetables.

That is when she was hit by the “stealth bomber”.  As she was walking to her seat with her plate of food, a black-shouldered kite, a hawk-like bird, instantly dive bombed down from the tree above and stole that steak right off her plate in a flash.

Victoria hollered, “He hit me, he took it!” and we all looked to see her standing there in shock holding her plate of food, minus her steak. We couldn’t believe she didn’t drop the plate of food and that she remained so calm after the robbery.  We all celebrated her stellar plate performance.

The chef offered Victoria another visit to the buffet, and cooked another huge, fresh steak for her.  This time Victoria made sure no other kite could repeat a dive bomb attack from the air by covering her food with a dinner napkin and hovering over her plate as she walked to her seat.

When all calmed down, we noticed the black-shouldered kite had dropped that stolen steak on the ground.  He didn’t have lunch after all, but we all had a priceless dive bomb experience in the bush on our Tauck World Discovery Kenya-Tanzania tour.

Africa South Africa Togo

The Baboon Picnic Lunch

Meeting a former US Ambassador to Togo and his wife on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise turned out to be a major ambush. While stationed at the US Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, they told of an Embassy employee who had a “food’ experience.

The grandmother employee, her husband and 2 grandchildren decided to go to Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa for a noon picnic. They all agreed on fried chicken and all the trimming except the grandmother wanted to make her home-made potato salad.

They arrived on the mountain, spread the blanket, put out the food, soft drinks, and sat down to eat. While eating their first bite of food, they noticed baboons surrounding them and the baboons showed their teeth and screamed and waved their arms in the air. The 4 were so scared they ran to the car, locked the doors and rolled up the windows for protection.

So they sat in the car and watched the baboons eat their picnic. First, they ate all the fried chicken and moved to the next dish which was the grandmother’s homemade prize-winning potato salad. But after one bite, they spit it out. And, the grandmother screamed “they won’t eat it, they don’t like it!”

The baboons then ate the beans and they liked them and licked the bowl clean. They did the same with the Cole Slaw. All that was left was the potato salad and finally they ate it all. The grandmother was so happy now that even baboons like her potato salad.

But the final treat of the picnic was washing it all down, so each baboon grabbed a soft drink, popped the tab and chug-a-lugged it all down. Even though the family was robbed of their picnic, the grandmother was so happy even baboons love her potato salad.

Africa Tanzania

Tanzanian Junk Food Junkie Monkey

In Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, we were having an awesome African breakfast in a scenic riverside picnic area.  Adam, our guide with Proud African Safaris, had just poured our final cup of Tanzanian coffee. Suddenly, Adam grunts “Uhhh” while looking toward the parking lot.

Our van in the right back of this photo, and we couldn’t see it.

Thinking nothing of his grunt, I continued sipping my coffee and then, slowly headed toward our van to continue our game drive.

This van next to us didn’t roll up windows or lower the roof, so he had total access.

As we looked inside of our van, we saw Fritos and vanilla cookies scattered everywhere. We had been hit by the American junk food junkie thief.  How could this happen, I wondered, when all the doors were locked. We looked up and the roof was wide open!  While viewing hundreds of elephants and their babies and other game, we had left it open. Suddenly, the thief jumped straight up through the roof and we realized that we had been robbed by the junk food monkey!  That monkey was having breakfast while we were having breakfast. And his dirty little monkey hands rummaged through my tote bag to steal my only bag of Fritos, and vanilla cookies. How lucky I was that he did not bother my medications and other expensive, priceless items.

This ia all that was left as the cookies were all gone.

Then, we noticed he was going into another van through its roof. Before we could stop him, he jumped into that van and stole a bag of potato chips. Jumping out instantly through the roof, he galloped across the park carrying those potato chips. It was a priceless run of freedom before his next robbery. In that Vervet monkey’s stomach was my Fritos that I had been saving for my stomach when I had an American junk food craving for my favorite snack as I viewed cheetahs, buffalo, lions, rhinos, giraffes, hyenas, hippos, leopards, zebras, elephants and yes, monkeys!