The Belle of the Baboon Ball

September 11th, 2010

Most parents are proud, as well as quite relieved, when their child succeeds as an individual. These feelings are no different when that child is a baboon (I mean this literally, not figuratively). I left Betty and Malawi over a month ago with an agonizing sense of guilt. Did I really teach her any life skills? Leaning to crack peanuts was one of our favorite activities, but unless she was planning to move to a peanut farm in Georgia, she was out of luck–peanuts are not indigenous to the African bush. But then again, at some point in her life, there would be other shells or husks to force open.



Betty still loves Bananas


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Lake Malawi

July 5th, 2010

The drive to Lake Malawi wasn’t very long, but with the intense sun and vast amounts of dust blowing through the open car windows, I couldn’t wait to get there. A barren land of mud huts, with thatched reed roofs, and scattered goats, stretched out in front of me. Bicycles, cows, chickens and pedestrians, carrying everything from sugar cane to buckets of charcoal, balanced perfectly on their heads, flashed before me as we made our way to Africa’s third largest lake.


village huts

Village women

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An Ensuite Safari

June 27th, 2010
There are pivotal moments in one’s life when a decision is made and the consequences suffered. Many times our choices lead us in a new direction, guide us down a different path, and then we hope and prey that our hard-earned wisdom does not fail us.

I came to a crossroad this past weekend when asked if I wanted an ensuite bathroom at the Mvuu Lodge campsite in Liwonde National Park–Malawi’s largest and most important, renowned for its large herds of wild elephants. I debated for a long time, not wanting to spend the money, but I was tempted by the thought of my own private bathroom after weeks of sharing with an entire family. Even though I knew it was a self-centered, needless luxury I decided to splurge on my weekend safari.


Mvuu Lodge entrance

Entrance to Mvuu Lodge


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The Reality of Malawian Dining

June 23rd, 2010
In took me only a few days to sniff out a good Italian restaurant with proper cappuccino in Lilongwe. I could eat like a local, but unfortunately my western palette can’t handle the monotony of the diet: nsima or white rice with an occasional roasted chicken or goat.
Nsima is the staple of Malawi (and most other African countries). It’s a mixture of powdered maize and hot water, blended into a thick paste. American maize was introduced by the Europeans in the 1800s, then later planted in great quantities during the famine of the 1970s. It’s the main crop of the country, second only to tobacco (Malawi’s only export)–a cheap filler for an empty stomach with little nutritional value.
Roadside sugar cane

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Betty’s Back to Nature Spa

June 13th, 2010
“Great Potential Business Consultant Offices”, written in bold black letters on a crumbling building, flashed before me as I turned a corner in old town Lilongwe. Within seconds I decided to steal the idea and start a branch in San Miguel. I have a talent for telling people what to do, so I think I’d be a natural at spouting great potential business ideas, tailored to each and every individual.
lilongwe old town

Anxious to get started, I’ve decided to take Betty on as my first client (see Baby Baboon Love for full story). Through astute observation, I’ve noticed that she’s not particularly fond of being a baboon and prefers human contact (which isn’t necessarily good) to stinky, hairy animals. Like any good mother, I want to give Betty every opportunity in life, so if the baboon in the bush thing doesn’t work out, I’m prepared to set her up in her own spa business.

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Baby Baboon Love

June 7th, 2010

I feel in love on my first day of work in Malawi. It was love at first sight just like in the movies. With just one glance I knew I would always love Betty—a 3 month old orphaned  baboon at the animal center.

Betty's Beauty Shot

Betty’s Beauty Shot


On my second day of work I offered to feed Betty, not believing that the other volunteers  weren’t  lined up begging for the task. I watched Henry, one of the animal carers, prepare her special diet: hot water, powdered milk and a banana, all mashed together, then placed on a small, plastic green plate. The meals I prepare are usually a little more complicated, so I assured Henry I could handle the multiple feedings, adding a chopped boiled egg once a day for protein.

Betty at Breakfast

Betty at Breakfast

Unfortunately Betty had a traumatic youth (if you can say that about someone 3 months old). Her mother was killed for bush meat and she was taken to be sold in the illegal animal trade. Luckily, she was saved somewhere along the way and brought to the animal center when she was about  a month old. At that age baboons have to be hand raised or they will die, so Betty lived with a local woman where she was looked after 24 hrs. a day.

Play time


When I arrived at the center Betty had just been placed with a surrogate baboon mother, Ida, who took her job seriously reaching for the baby, but Betty wasn’t interested. She still thought she was human and didn’t like a big baboon in her enclosure. I’m entering the picture at this difficult transitional phase.

I think Betty also experienced our great bond. When I fed her for the first time  she nestled herself into my lap and went to sleep, wiping her dirty, little banana mouth all over my pants before dozing off. Henry said she had never done this with anyone before.

A very tired baboon

A very tired baby baboon

ps—Betty will eventually grow into her Dr. Spock ears.