Nothing expressed here reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government. I say this in part to protect them from getting blamed for anything I might say, but also to keep them from stealing my jokes.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

changing lives with David Attenborough

Best moments from the first meeting of Wildlife Club, which featured the experience of watching BBC’s Planet Earth with a roomful of Malawian teenagers, many of whom had never seen a nature documentary before:

- a collective cringe of “Eeeeeeeeeeee” in response to shots of windswept, snow-laden Arctic landscapes
- a collective “Ahhh, pepa, pepa” (sorry, sorry!) in response to my explanation that my homeland usually has at least three to four months of winter, followed by amazement that humans can even survive in places where it snows.
- explaining the lifestyle of the Inuit to kids who think 50-degree weather is worthy of fur-trimmed coats.
- explaining that the taiga is not the same as a tiger.
- David Attenborough states that all living things depend on the sun for their energy. A hearty round of “Yes! Yes yes! The man is right!” hums through the room.
- utter astonishment at the news that many Northern Hemisphere birds travel south when winter comes.
- another collective “Ahhh, pepa pepa,” this time at a male bird of paradise’s failed attempts to woo a pretty lady. (One Form 4 boy knew he was doomed before anyone else: “I can already see that he is not really impressing her.”)
- At the sight of a pack of short-haired, black-faced African wild dogs, the entire room shouts, “Chalo!” My dog hears his name and comes crashing out of the forest, peels across the school grounds, tears into the classroom, and collapses happily in the crowd.
- As that same pack of African wild dogs chases down an impala, the room takes on the the feel of a football game, full of shouts (in Chitumbuka) of “RUN! FASTER!” and “INTO THE WATER.” The impala leaps into a lake, leaving the dogs waiting at the shore. A roar of applause.
- A troop of baboons wades through the Okavango Delta. “Hey, those are our relatives!”
- A whole smorgasbord of moments of communal awe, shared with people seeing many of these things for the first time, which served as a good reminder of several things I already know but need to get booster shots for every now and then: the waxing and waning of the seasons IS incredible, animals ARE awesome, and the world we live in IS staggering.

And I walked home that day with that Antoine de Saint Exupéry quote playing on repeat in my brain: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

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