The next three days of our journey was focused on getting to our Zambian charities located all the way in South Luangwa. The 4th we traversed 700 kilometres on the Great Eastern Road of Zambia to a small town called Mfuwe. Mfuwe is a vibrant community located a scarce rock throw away from the mighty Luangwa river, surrounded by world-renowned lodges and conservation organisations. Its people were perpetually friendly and its animals unapologetically wild. Just on our way to and from our campsite we saw hippo’s, giraffe, puku’s, elephants, impala, and a range of colourful, striking birds. Among the conservation organisations located in the area are Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust and Conservation South Luangwa. We set out on the 5th of January to visit them.
Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) was our first stop. Dr Mwamba Sichande, their resident veterinarian, was unfortunately on leave, but George, responsible for anti-poaching and logistics, welcomed us warmly. He told us all about the important work they do in the environment, for the people and the animals. They work closely with the Zambian government to ensure that conservation is a priority in South Luangwa. They actively work to decrease poaching, which is an unfortunate reality in their area. They have an impressive dog unit used to sniff out almost anything if needed. Dr Mwamba Sichande is available to be called out for any wild cases and often works to save animals from fatal snare traps. They aim to empower the people of the surrounding communities by developing strategies to prevent the freely roaming elephants from destroying their farm crops. They also donate the snare traps they collect to the locals, who have developed skilful ways to turn the cruel contraptions into beautiful jewellery that they sell to tourists to make a living.
We were very impressed with all that we saw. Conservation South Luangwa is an impeccable example of what it looks like when humans, animals and the environment protect one another in a sustainable way that allows them to live in harmony together. We gave them the donations we had collected for them in the previous two years, and we felt thankful that we could help this organisation to continue with their good work.
Next on our agenda was Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust. The dirt roads on the way reminded us that we were well and truly in Africa. Steve Tolan and his guide drove out to guide us through the last bit, which was particularly wild. While we were following them, they stopped to track on foot whatever the vultures above were circling, as poaching was a possibility and they needed to investigate it. Luckily no poaching was discovered, but we were treated with a rare sight to behold on foot. Not even 500 metres off the road we spotted a pack of 15 wild dogs eyeing a herd of buffalo right behind them. What a find! All smiles, we climbed back into the cars and in no time, we got to their headquarters. Anna, the director of Chipembele, met us with a big smile and three baboons tailing her. A smaller one jumped into her arms as she welcomed us. As Anna and Steve showed us their rehabilitation centre, we had fun with the baboons that had no problem with interacting with us. There were also a lot of monkeys, but they were more wary of us. After a refreshing ice-cold glass of water (the African sun was particularly warm that day), Anna showed us her vibrant classroom and their showcase room, both of which were stunning to see. It was obvious that a lot of time, energy and funds went into them. She explained to us that Chipembele is focused on teaching children of the community about conservation and its importance. It is a long-term commitment and investment into South Luangwa’s children to slowly change the way the community sees wild animals and the environment. She herself gives class here at headquarters, but she also has six mobile teaching units that actively go into the community’s schools to make sure that even more children get the opportunity to learn of conservation. We resonate with Chipembele’s mission, as we also feel that long-term commitment is needed to make a sustainable difference. Anna and Steve were happy to receive the items we collected for them and we were happy that we could contribute to their great cause.
The next few days were dedicated to travel through the last bit of Zambia to get to the Tanzanian border. On the 6th we drove the exact same 700 km back to Lusaka, but it went by a bit faster than the first time. The 7th was used to drive to Mpika, and due to 660 km and very bad roads, we only arrived after dark. The 8th we finally got to the border crossing over to Tanzania, the next country on our list. The border was clean and relatively organised, but it still took us three and a half hours to cross it. Immediately after crossing it, our phones all set the time to one hour later than it was back in Zambia. Mind-boggling time zones! There was an appreciable difference between the Zambian and Tanzanian people and their ways of living. The rest of the road to our campsite in Mbeya was spent gazing out the windows to take in the first scenes and landscapes of the new country we were about to explore.
The past few days of intense driving really depleted our energy reserves, so the off day on the 9th of January could not come at a better time. We spent the day exploring Mbeya and its markets. None but a few of the locals knew any English, so it was an interesting day of communication! The markets were completely packed with people, so for safety’s sake we travelled as a unit between shops. By the end of the day everyone was pleased with the “poeie” (our own word for souvenirs) they collected.
The 10th of January, well rested and refocused on our mission, we set out very early to get to our next destination: Morogoro. It was a full day of driving, but it must have been one of the most stunning roads we got to drive on yet. We drove on a mountain pass that went on and on for kilometres, providing us with abundant, ever-changing views of beautiful mountainous nature. We ended up descending 1000 metres at the end of the pass!
As we got there quite late in the evening, the night at Morogoro went by swiftly. Before we knew it, it was the morning of the 11th and we were headed to our next university: Sokoine University of Agriculture. The university was located at the edge of Morogoro city, with mountains spanning the horizon and creating an ethereal atmosphere. The Faculty of Veterinary Sciences was a beautiful sight. Everyone there was semi-formally dressed, students and staff alike. They were neat, presentable and relatively well versed in speaking English. We could immediately sense that they were proud to belong to the faculty, to study what they did. We visited both the final years’ and fourth years’ classes and Gerhard told them about what Vet Books for Africa did. He also told them about the International Veterinary Students Association. The students were keen to listen and had quite a few questions to ask. After the presentation, we spent some time conversing with the students and handing out Vet Books bracelets. It was interesting to hear from them how our curricula differed; their degree was only five years while ours were six. The modules they had were tailored to the needs of the animals and people of Tanzania, as ours were to South Africa’s. They were very grateful to receive the books and equipment we had for them. Our group became fast acquaintances with both the students and the doctors, and when it was time to leave, it was with lengthy and heartfelt goodbyes. We wanted to stay for longer, but we still had to drive 520 km on the same day to get to Singida by night fall. With the moon already high in the sky, we arrived at Singida. Content with the day’s events at the university, we had a restful evening.
On the 12th of January we travelled 460 km from Singida to Mwanza with the hope of doing our second Covid-19 test at 13h00. We would need the results to get into Uganda. Unfortunately, we could not get there on time and had to reschedule our testing for the next morning. We were fortunate to have a campsite directly next to Lake Victoria, which was a beautiful sight to behold. The next morning, we set out to be at the hospital the moment it opened, so that we could get the tests done and dusted. How differently the day turned out! We estimated that the tests would be done, by the latest, at noon. As we had the day off from driving, we were excited to explore Lake Victoria on a boat afterwards. What should have taken two hours, took a whopping six hours to complete. First the system was down, then it took a really long time to register our unique test codes. Then we had trouble to get to a bank to draw money, as they did not accept card payments. Finally, the tests were done, which is not a particularly pleasant experience. By the end of it we were all quite exhausted and a bit negative. At least, with the sun only setting at seven o’clock, we had quite a bit of time to still set sail. Excited and armed with strong sunscreen and quite a few cameras, we climbed on the boat and enjoyed the beauty of Lake Victoria for three glorious hours. We saw fish jump out of the water and birds dive into it. We appreciated the different islands and waved to the children on them, who excitedly waved back. Two of our team members, Zandré and Pieter, tried hard to catch fish, but unfortunately none of them wanted to bite. Nonetheless, when the boat took us back to land, we were content and satisfied.
We are thankful for the new memories that have been made in the last week and few days, and the difference we could make in Conservation South Luangwa, Chipembele Wildlife Education Trust and Sokoine University of Agriculture. We look forward to what comes next!