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  • 3/18/98 Letter - Farrell settles in... The Pelum Project... Different ways of Zimbabwean living... Home stay in a rural household
  • 5/31/98 Letter - Opening of PELUM College!.. Tanzania and Zanzibar... Spice Tour... Prison Island
  • 6/7/98 Letter - Mana Pools... Cape Buffalo... Elephants and other Animals

Letter from Farrell Hochmuth
Writing from Zimbabwe

Dearest family and friends:

Maneru! (Good afternoon in Shona). I hope everyone had a great Easter and is enjoying spring. We are just entering fall, which means the days are still hot (80s and 90s), but the nights are getting cool (50s and 60s). The Zimbabwean people complain that it's getting so cold-they wear sweaters (jerseys), wool hats, and heavy jackets even during the day. I'm still wearing warm weather gear. I keep telling them this is nothing compared to a Chicago winter! Can you imagine wearing shorts and a t-shirt during the winter in Chicago?

Preparations for the launching of PELUM College
Work has been incredibly busy. My main Fulbright project, the launching of PELUM College Zimbabwe, takes its first group of students on May 4. The college will give long term training in sustainable agriculture and community development. I have been preparing for the students' arrival: making sure there is adequate stationery, confirming with the training managers, arranging transportation, attempting to get some type of higher accreditation for the college, etc. This first group of students will be involved in what is called a "sandwich programme." They will attend classes at one of the sixteen institutions for two weeks every two months. All of our students are currently working for some type of development organization, so they can directly apply what they learn at PCZ (P-C-Zed as it's called here).

Last week I organized interviews for the last five positions at the college. Prior to the interviews, I sent out seven letters inviting people to come. The day before the interviews, I had received confirmations that two of these seven that they would be coming. At the last minute, I invited four others from PELUM partner organizations. So, in total, I was expecting six. I had planned that the interviews would take most of the day, so I arranged tea and biscuits for six, lunch for six, and made six information packets. My jaw hit the floor when eleven walked through the door the morning of the interviews. With the help of my co-workers, everything went incredibly smoothly. At the end of the day, the interviewers were really excited about who we had chosen. I learned a lot about interviews, this being my first experience on the "other side of the desk." One of the major lessons I learned, however, was that no matter how well prepared you are, things rarely go how you had planned.

Lake Chivero National Park
After all the stress of conducting the interviews, I decided to take two vacation days and go on a safari. There is a place called Lake Chivero National Park just 40 kilometres outside of Harare. I left early on Wednesday morning for my journey. When we reached the outskirts of Harare, I let my first big sigh. Already, I was feeling relaxed.

The drive into the park is really nice: winding roads through wooded areas with an occasional view of the lake through the trees. It took about a half an hour just to get from the main road to my chalet, which sat on top of a hill with an incredible view of Lake Chivero. The chalets were built in the 60's in an attempt to have Rhodesians (Zimbabwe was Rhodesia until 1980) vacation in their own country instead of travelling abroad; they are the nicest chalets I've ever seen. I do have to admit, though, the fabrics used for the curtains and covers do reflect the sixties time period-zebras with giraffe spotted waves on a nasty orange background. Funkadelic.

Rock Rabbits
When I first arrived, I took a walk around the property. Suddenly I heard scuttling sounds near me......the dreaded Black Mamba snake which kills you dead in a matter of minutes? A ferocious lion? A hungry rhinoceros? No, a group of rock rabbits. These guys are so cute and chubby. They look like huge prairie dogs (for those of you who had the honor of meeting Ms. Texas, the rock rabbits are even chubbier-if you can believe that!). They have bodies like really fat cats, stubs for tails, and an oversize chipmunk face. They are wild, so you can't pet them, but they will come close for bread. In fact, my tour guide warned me that sometimes they mistake your big toe for bread. They ate a lot of bread and pasta during my stay, and I managed to keep all my toes. (Top)

Safari at Lake Chivero. Me with giraffe in the background

Horse Safari
On Wednesday afternoon I took my first horse ride safari. I boarded Whisky, and we set off. I let my safari guide know right away that there was an incentive to find a lot of animals. We soon left the paths and started to make our way through the savannah grasslands. We first came across a group of about 10 ostrich. Those birds are really big! Then we rode right into the middle of a group of wildebeests (they are called gnu here). It is really true that the animals just think that you are part of the horse; they let you get so close. As soon as the first person talked, though, all the wildebeests looked up, startled, and started to run away. We all remained quiet for the rest of the trip.

Male rhinocerous at Lake Chivero.

Ben, our guide, was an amazing animal tracker (I suppose the incentive helped as well). He kept looking at the ground, which was covered in a fine sand, to find the tracks of the animals. He was paying such close attention to the tracks that all of a sudden, his horse reared up. We looked straight ahead and there was a mother rhinoceros feeding her baby. It was really breathtaking. She wouldn't let us get much closer than 10 feet, but I took some good pictures nevertheless.

Ben was determined to find me a giraffe, and so we started to follow their tracks. Meanwhile, we passed a herd of zebra. They are a lot smaller than I thought. Soon, Ben started picking up the pace (ouch-sore bum!), we rounded a termite hill (they can get to be 30 feet high here), and I saw THE image of Africa: two mother giraffes and their one month old babies strolling through the grasslands. The sun was setting, and the sky was a brilliant orange with fiery pinks and reds. The lake was sparkling with the last light from the sun. It was a picture that I will always remember!

Well, Ben got a really nice incentive-probably as much as he gets for a whole week's salary, but he really deserved it. I painfully waddled back to my chalet. I had brought some good food and some new recipes to try, so I whipped up a soya bean curry with fresh mangoes for dinner. Included in the price of the chalet (US 12$ per night) is a man who does the dishes after every meal. After eating, I was able to just relax and read my new book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People-highly recommended. It did not take me long to close my eyes against the starry night.

I had planned another horse safari for the following morning, and almost changed my mind when I got out of bed. I practically had to crawl to the bathroom-my bum was so sore! The muscles loosened up soon, though, and I was aboard Whisky again. We entered the grasslands and almost immediately, came face to face with six male rhinos. The males were much less concerned with our presence, seeming only to care how much grass they could stuff in their faces. I actually got so close to one of the rhinos that I could have touched him! I got some excellent pictures of those rhinos.

Ben found the mother and baby giraffes again, and we sat and watched them for quite awhile. We saw more zebra, wildebeest, and ostrich. I think Ben got a little carried away with the hope of getting another incentive, and proceeded to ride for a total of three hours. It was all I could do to peal myself off that horse when we finally got back to the stable.

I spent the rest of the day relaxing by my own private pool, reading, and feeding the rock rabbits. I ate a home-made Mexican dinner (I'll never take bottled salsa and tortilla chips for granted again) at sunset, and crawled into bed.

Back to Harare
On Friday morning, I packed up and went back, kicking and screaming, to Harare. Well, it wasn't that bad. I have quite a bit of planning left to do for PELUM College, and I'm so excited to attend the opening. This is a huge event, and I'm excited to be a part of it.

I'm afraid that I have to sign off now-Martha, my friend from across the street, has just come over. The other day I taught her how to play Solitaire on the computer, and she's endlessly fascinated. Learning how to double click was quite a chore, but she's got the hang of it now. She has even won a game. Martha talks about the day when she can send "those computer mails." One thing at a time.

Hope all is well on your side of the planet. Keep writing, I love to hear from you all!

Take care and eat your veggies,