By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)
We recently embarked on our first journey away from Makupo village. The crew awoke bright and early in preparation for the long ride to Livingstonia. The battery we use to charge our electronics was dead once again, so we enjoyed some sizzling hot doughnuts under candlelight prior to loading the bus and hitting the road. As we headed north, an eerie mist dispersed as the sun rose over the few peaks that dotted the landscape. A couple quick stops were scattered throughout our nearly five-hour trip before we came to the base of the mountain. I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what we were about to experience next. Our bus began hopping every which way atop the rocks embedded in the dirt road. A number of bends, marked by small wooden signs, indicated our progress up the mountain. Sharp hairpin turns and a narrow path for our vehicle characterized our nearly one hour climb up the mountain. Once we reached our destination, Lukwe Lodge, there was a sense of relief that overcame the bus, and at the same time there emerged a sense of eagerness to explore the grounds. Our group was lead down to the primary lodge structure – a veranda overlooking the entire valley and facing a number of other surrounding mountains. Any description of the view or the emotional response that it produced would not even begin to do it justice.
Our full day away from the village was spent hiking the remainder of the mountain to the town of Livingstonia. It was astounding to see the drastically different lifestyle that residents enjoy atop this elevation. The University of Livingstonia can be found in the town, along with a number of other private homes and lodges for visitors. Life exists and flourishes at this extreme elevation. The radical journey that we had taken hiking the mountain and on the bus the day prior was something that seemed so foreign to me, but is something that these inhabitants have surely done hundreds of times in their life. On another note, the communities living upon this mountain and the surrounding ones are completely self-sustaining. All of their necessities are at their fingertips despite the extreme conditions, which is a true testament to their multitude of skills and ability to sustain all aspects of life.
Despite the amazing experience that we had while in Livingstonia, I think the most impactful portion of the weekend was, ironically, our return to Makupo. Upon our arrival back to the village, I caught myself saying in my head “Yay – I’m home!” I am confident that I am not alone in this feeling. When I really thought about this, it seemed like the strangest concept. I am thousands of kilometers away from “home”, yet I felt this unwavering sense of comfort coming back to Makupo. This speaks volumes, not only the welcoming nature of the local people, but also of the amazing ability of humans to adapt to significant differences in culture. By no means am I 100% integrated into the society, nor will I ever be. I can say, with gratitude, that the Praxis team has become my second family and Makupo, my home away from home.