June 6: Chaminuka

Today was a meant to be a fun Saturday visiting a private game park called Chaminuka just outside Lusaka. Though we had a good time at the park there were some challenges also….

Woke up to a cloudy and cool day and it was actually raining!!! In 4 visits to Zambia, I believe this is the first rain I have seen! Most every day is sunny and beautiful and so this was a little disappointing start to a day that we were hoping to spend outdoors!

Anyway, we had a relaxed start at 9:00am, and after jolting on a red dirt road for a long time (about an hour), we reached the park.


As soon as we entered I (most surprisingly) spotted a giraffe standing tall very near the road!! We stopped the bus and took pictures – he was an older male (we now know this because his spots were dark!) and he looked quite majestic!




We parked at the lodge, and while the others went in I saw that John Mwakatala who had been our guide when we visited Chaminuka in 2012 was there! It was so great to see him! At our last visit, we had actually met his wife and kids also so of course I asked how they were. Sadly, John told me that he lost his wife last year after a prolonged illness and as is typical in Zambian culture, the children were living with their grandmother. This was a total shock to me as I had so been looking forward to seeing John again and it upset me greatly. While we ordered coffee and everyone sat down to wait for it, I had to leave the group for a few minutes and collect myself, but my day was changed…..

After a quick cup of coffee we hopped in a jeep for a safari in the park. The park, although private is quite large covering 10,000 acres and they say has 7000 animals. But it is nothing compared to Chobe National Park that we visited last weekend of course, which has 80,000 elephants alone. Regardless, a safari in a jeep is always pleasant and though a bit cool today the rain had stopped!

We first stopped to see the few animals that they have in enclosures including hyena, lions and cheetahs.

Lion roaring...

Lion roaring…

Then we were off to see the rest in their natural habitat, hoping to see zebra as we had not seen any at Chobe. The first animal spotted was an elephant. Sadly, we found out that she was the only elephant in the park and that she was mourning the loss of her baby a few months ago who died after eating some poisonous plants L. They are trying to get some other elephants to keep her company. Next – the best treat of the day – we got to see a herd of zebra!! Their stripes were clearly visible among the tall grass and with the help of a good zoom I got some good pictures of them!

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Then we saw several species of antelope including kudu, blue wildebeest, hartebeest (horns are shaped like a heart), sable with beautiful long horns and a water buck! Sorry – wifi too slow to post all the pics I want 😦

Blue wildebeest

Blue wildebeest



Sable - what beautiful horns!

Sable – what beautiful horns!

Water buck

Water buck

Back to the lodge for a feast for lunch – this I clearly remember form three years ago and all of us enjoyed the spread! After lunch, we sat on the lawn and with the sun out by now we were having a perfectly beautiful Zambian winter day again! The students decided what activities they wanted to do. Danielle, Gabby and Jenn decided to “walk with the cheetahs” while the rest chose to go horseback riding. (Sorry – the horseback riders did not send me any pics!)

Walking with cheetahs….

Walking with cheetahs….

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And Connor decided to demonstrate a yoga pose as we waited?

Yoga by Connor!

Yoga by Connor!

Our final activity all together was a visit to the village just outside the park with our guide Jason. A man met us just as we got there and through Jason as interpreter, he showed us his house and kitchen, his cooking utensils, his set-up for brewing the local beer etc. What was different about this village is that the houses were set apart isolated from each other, and that there did not seem to be any people around. We met a young lady with a small child, but other than that there seemed to be nobody around….It was interesting to see that the village folk had planted maize, pumpkin and cassava plants, and that there were fruit trees – a mango tree at almost every house.

After this, we drove back to Lusaka, with William taking a much easier and better route so we were on a better road and got back much faster. We went straight to the grocery store as several people wanted to buy a few things and then we had our final dinner all together at Mint Café – just as we did last year!. We also ordered dessert crepes, which are fantastic – except for if you order “fresh cream” with it instead of ice cream!


Back to the guest house for our final pow-wow of this trip in Zambia and it was by far the most thoughtful discussion of the past two weeks! We discussed yesterday and today since we had not had a chance to de-brief yesterday after the farewell dinner. First about yesterday’s activities:

About the clinical activity:

  • Students discussed how they overcame the language barrier in instructing young children to do the screening task by demonstrating and using gestures and hand-on-hand practice
  • And how their confidence in clinical skills has grown over the past two weeks
  • How they have only tested adults so far, but they loved all the pediatric experiences here

About culture:

  • At Mthunzi Centre they were asked to join the children for lunch, and the lady appeared offended when they declined
  • How even the Italian volunteer at Mthunzi commented on the warm and friendly culture here compared to her home town in Italy
  • How a puppy at the Centre appeared to be emaciated and uncared for; which made one student upset, but also made her realize that if one doesn’t have enough to feed themselves and their family, how doe they feed a puppy?
  • How dogs here do not seek out attention from people as they do in the US, because animals are not treated like family

About the farewell dinner:

  • How Alfred advised them that although working with people in Zambia can be heartbreaking one has to do what one to help can but also live their own life
  • And that non-profits are very helpful in Zambia, but that capitalism has a role also in making progress
  • How one can’t become completely emotionally attached as then they may not be able to help as much
  • How the Nelson’s shared the extremely inspiring story of how they founded Special Hope Network

And then we discussed today:

Comparing Chobe National Park and Chaminuka:

  • How at Chobe the park rangers were great and the animals were never provoked, and lived in harmony with the safari jeeps because they were used to them
  • While today, we had our guide clap and whistle at some of the animals just for us to get a picture and rap the fence for the lion to react
  • And how there may be positive and negative aspects of animals raised in captivity – the cheetah walk is being used to raise awareness, reduce poaching of cheetahs, etc.

The most thoughtful and reflective discussion was about the visit to the village today:

  • Students discussed how they felt conflicted, intrusive, uncomfortable and even ashamed going into the village
  • That they were going in as tourists, walking into people’s homes and property, taking pictures – all as part of a paid visit to the fancy game park next door
  • That we made a big deal discussing how the cheetahs were in an enclosure and had been tamed and were being “used” to attract tourists but were doing the same thing with people’s homes in the village
  • That it felt like we were exploiting the villagers, but that we also saw the reality of the village

So after our last pow-wow, we pack our bags and have one last fun day in Zambia tomorrow before we head for home….



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susannah Slavich
    Jun 06, 2015 @ 20:57:20

    It was probably a good thing Connor knew what he was doing or it could have been dangerous. 🙂 how long did he hold the pose?


  2. sibks
    Jun 07, 2015 @ 02:00:29

    Thank you for the post and the wonderful photos. Your descriptions make me feel like I visited the park with all of you! The student reflections are very thoughtful.

    I was so sorry to read about your friend John and his family. I have followed each trip via your posts and remember that picture and your previous remarks about his wife and little children.

    Have a good trip home!


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