The Middle of Nowhere

First Weeks in Kuti

18 January 2016

Working and living in a wildlife reserve in one of the hottest places of Malawi; since the 1st of January Jeroen and I are general managers of Kuti Wildlife Reserve near Salima in Central Malawi. Two hours from the capital and half an hour from the lake you find 30 square kilometers of savanna, woodland and a wetland. Lots of trees in a land where deforestation is one of the biggest challenges where you can find sable antelope, impala, kudu, bushbucks, waterbucks, nyala, warthogs, zebra, vervet monkeys, baboons, guinea fowls and lots of birds visiting our wetland. We also have some rescued animals: a giraffe, a camel and Evelyn the ostrich.

It is wonderful to see sables and impala along the way to work, zebra outside the window of the office, the monkeys playing around while we have lunch with the volunteers or watch the birds and beautiful sunset at the wetland at the end of a workday. Every time I walk from the office to reception I see some animals and in the morning we hear the cicadas, frogs and birds outside our temporary home.

It's peaceful here, beautiful surroundings and because we have no dangerous animals, you can walk and cycle in the park. To make a cup of tea we first have to light a fire in one of the mbaulas, telephone reception is poor and electricity is solar powered. When there is no moon, the night is so dark that it makes no difference if my eyes are open or closed. With a bright sky there are lots of stars and I can't wait to see a full moon here.

Our life here is hot, hectic but we're happy. December and January are too hot; sticky close weather while clouds build up but the rains don't come. The humidity is high leaving everything wet and we all sweat like pigs. At night you hear the mozzies and staff members have malaria quite often. Before putting on clothes we have to check it for scorpions and yesterday I found a little snake in the house. With the rains come the bugs and when we have dinner, lots of moths and other insects fly towards the lights.

Rainy season is late, which is a disaster for the crops. Last year parts of the country suffered first from draught followed by floods and it looks like the same might happen this year. Last year's harvest was not good and they expect 2.8 million Malawians to suffer from hunger between now and April. I cannot imagine what will happen if this year's crops fail again. The area we live has been hit hard and a lot of people do not have enough maize. A famine is imminent and people begging for money in Salima and are looking everywhere for food.

The biggest challenge we face at Kuti is poaching (NL: stropen). People are hungry and looking for caterpillars, termites, they fish in our wetland or kill our game (wild). Deforestation is a problem in Malawi. People cut down trees for firewood but we have a lot because we protect our forest. So people come in to steal our wood. We understand they are hungry and have to find a good balance between protecting Kuti and not letting people starve. We do not want them to take our trees, eat our animals or empty our wetland, which is why we work with the communities to educate them and to give alternatives. We support the 12 villages bordering Kuti, but we do not have a lot of money and it can be quite tricky politically. A chief can say 'yes' to us, that he will tell his people not to fish at Kuti, but some don't always stick to the agreements.

We're facing challenges and living at Kuti is not easy. Sometimes I long for things that are common in Europe but here we are back to basics. We are happy here and have no regrets, but sometimes I'd like to be able to relax on the sofa without worrying about mosquitos, or hop in the bike for a nice craft IJ beer, go to the shops and find what you want, drink a nice cappuccino with friends or just turn on the gas to boil some water for a cup of tea. But we're only just settling in and it's good to be here. Life is great - we love Malawi!!!