Blue Headed Tree Agamas

There are some really great lizards here in Malawi, including the fascinating blue headed tree agamas.

They put on their colorful displays from the end of September through the beginning of the rainy season – about early December.

They haven’t shown up around our house yet, but we saw our first when we were out last week.

Pretty soon they’ll be everywhere: walls, trees, falling out of trees! And then during the rains they’ll go back to being brown and grey for 8-9 months.

This guy was pretty proud of his colors and let us thoroughly enjoy his display. The girls got pretty close before he scampered up the tree!

The Boys

We have some great dogs. Simba is 1/4 Rhodesian Ridgeback and 3/4 Great Dane, and came to us as a little puppy almost 8 years ago. A few years ago, Simba got a “wife,” and they had 2 litters of puppies. The “wife” moved to America with her family and the puppies went all different directions – except Samson, who came to live with his dad.

Samson moved in and, at 6 weeks old, promptly moved his dad out of basket and bowl. He’s been the boss ever since! But who wouldn’t love this face?

Answer: any Malawian. Malawians don’t like 1) dogs, 2) big dogs, or 3) black dogs. These guys are the perfect security pair. And they love and are loved by our girls.

In fact, one of the girls’ favorite games is Follow Simba. One day I found Naomi sitting on the steps in the garage:

“What are you doing, Omi?”

“Following Simba.”

“Where is he?”

“Sleeping under the car. I’m waiting for him.”

Now that’s dedication!

Cheap Lunch

At $1.23/pound, crocodile tail is the cheapest meat in town. We usually eat more beef, chicken, fish, and pork, but every once in a while we have crocodile. Like when my 6 year old asks for it.

And in case you have the idea that we go hunt crocodile, skin it, and eat it, I'm sorry to disappoint you. We buy it at the grocery store!

There aren't a lot of recipe blogs that tell you how to cook crocodile. A few years ago I found a few adventurous cooks who gave some great pointers and came away with this: crocodile is like pork. Cook it quick and fruity. So until today I've done just that. Barely defrost, cover in fruit chutney, and fry in a skillet or grill it.

Today, I decided to do a quick sear and finish it in the oven. Power is off (no defrosting), and we don't have much chutney. So, a little experimenting.

This shot give you a good idea of the cross-section of the bone in crocodile tail, as well as the rings of fat that run through the meat sections.

The verdict:

It passes the 3-year-old test! We decided it is good with mustard, and really great with homemade barbecue sauce!

My favorite part? The timer. Seriously. My hands were full with 9 crocodile steaks and two kiddos, so I told Siri to set a timer for me:

Just another lunch in Lilongwe!

My Favorite Pharmacy

I seem to visit the pharmacy frequently. Maybe it’s that I have little kids and it’s just part of having kids, or maybe it’s because I live in Africa. Whatever the reason, I’ve had ample opportunity to pick my favorite pharmacy in Lilongwe: Pharmacare Pharmacy.

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There are several differences between pharmacies in the USA and pharmacies in Malawi. Yes, they both have medicine, but the line between prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines is… merely a suggestion here. And the types of medicines available are a bit different. I feel like there are a lot of pain-reliever type medicines in America. We don’t have a lot of variety in pain relievers, but we do have a plethora of anti-fungal creams available here, as seen above.

Pharmacy 2

We have medicines for colds and allergies too; I’ve just had to become an expert on ingredients and dosages! Our medicines come from Belgium, England, India, South Africa, Kenya… reading the fine print becomes very important! Medicines from countries with fewer regulations tend to be more intense or concentrated (read that as “Wow, that cleared my stuffy nose! I hope I still have sinuses left in there!!!). On the other hand, medicines from “first world countries” tend to be more expensive. Caution and advanced decision making skills are required!

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We also have some local herbal powders and seeds for those taking the more natural approach.

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And, well, this is Africa after all. We do need to maintain those “long drops.”

Pharmacy 1

One more to leave you with. Yes, you can buy umbilical cord clamps. I didn’t have to buy one for Naomi’s birth, but most clinics will expect the parents to bring EVERYTHING needed for a birth, from the baby bath to a cord clamp.

Overcoming Arachnophobia

Chop Chop long shotMe and spiders are like Indiana Jones and snakes. They’ve always creeped me out a bit.

Rachel and I first met a “Chop-Chop” in 2008, while we were gathering info about moving to Malawi. We were in someone else’s home when a big, hairy, crab-like spider darted between the furniture with startling speed. Rachel thought I was very brave to hunt it down and smash it with my flip-flop. Truth is, I just didn’t want it to find me later that night. We’ve never seen one in our house before…until now.

He was very still. I cautiously dropped a container over him. Sure enough, he was dead. Apparently the insecticide we use for mosquitos works on Chop-Chops too. But I still wasn’t really excited about our unwelcome guest.

So I decided the best way to overcome my fear was to photograph him. I love studying and observing God’s creation, perhaps they wouldn’t be so creepy if I learned a bit about them. So here are some facts I learned, with some photos to accompany them.

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  • They’re called camel spiders, wind scorpions, or sun spiders because they love dry, hot places. But they’re actually neither spiders or scorpions. They’re Solifugae.
  • Their legs are jointed differently than spiders, which is why they look double-jointed when they run. Why do they have ten legs? The front ones are actually feelers used for finding prey.
  • Speaking of prey, they eat beetles and termites… plus rodents, lizards, and even snakes! (Which is worse: snakes, or snake-eating spiders?)

Chop Chop profile

  • Their long hairs help them feel vibrations so they can move quickly. (Mine also has tiny wings on the back legs, which I’ll assume serve the same purpose. If you learn they actually use these for flying – I really, really don’t want to know.)
  • They can run 10 MPH (that’s ½ as fast as me!) They like the dark, and they often seem to be chasing a person when they actually just want to get in their shadow. (Or up their pant leg…)
  • They have very sophisticated eyes and can recognise forms, giving them an advantage in both hunting and avoiding enemies. (Like a guy with a flip-flop…)

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  • Their long movable jaws have scissor-like teeth that resemble crab claws. They use them to chew through hair, feathers, and small bird bones! They are called haarskeerders (hair-cutters) in Afrikaans.
  • Their bite can be painful, but is not dangerous to humans. They have no venom. (Which means the British family who fled their house because they thought a camel spider killed their dog was probably in no real danger.)
  • Soldiers on desert assignments have historically staged fights: camel spider vs. camel spider, or camel spider vs. scorpion. (No record of camel spider vs. snake, which would definitely have been worth seeing.)

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Did all that research make them less creepy? I’m not so sure. But after letting him sit on my desk a few days until I was sure he wasn’t moving, I felt ready to take this shot:

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And now if you need me, I’ll be spraying some insecticide in the attic.

Respite

Today I do not mind being wrong at all! As we went to bed last night we heard thunder rumble in the distance and the desire for cool rain was more a wish than a hope. But we woke in the middle of the night to the beautiful sound of soft rain on our tin roof! It rained for several hours through the night, and all day today it was cool and at times drizzly. It is SO WONDERFUL!

So I was completely wrong in my post 2 days ago when I said it would be a month before the rains. But I’m very happily wrong!

And as promised, here’s our neighbor’s roof… green!

First rain