Lion Cubs on Bunda Hill

Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi, has two rock domes on the southern fringe of the city outskirts. Depending on where you are standing, one looks like a home-made giant samoosa, and the other like a bun baked in an earthen oven typically found in surrounding villages, with some crumbs trailing on one end. Both of these hills provide endless hours of fun for hikers, and in some cases, a retreat for praise and worship teams, and for those that enjoy holding vigil prayers. The last two cases are so true for Bunda hill, which comfortably sits to the west of Ngala Ya Pakamwa.

Bunda Hill, the Giant Samoosa, in Lilongwe, Malawi
Bunda Hill, the Giant Samoosa, in Lilongwe, Malawi

In 2016, on 2 July to be exact, I was priviledged to led a team of young software engineers from my workplace up Bunda hill. There were three of them: Ron, Kaponda and Pacharo. I was their guide as well as their host. Pacharo, who has ever been on Zomba mountain, claimed some hiking experience. Ron, was and is very light on his feet, and he eagerly looked forward to the adventure. Kaponda, just like myself, is not necessarily an outdoors personality but has a lot of clout. So together, we embarked on a mission to get to the top of this tiny yet beautiful hill. Starting from 1,173 metres and rising up to 1,410 metres, it promised a short but exhilarating hiking experience. But to the uninitiated, it is very easy to dismiss what was lying ahead.

So it was the case, when Cathy my wife, dropped the team, later dubbed the YOUNG CUBS, at the quarry site near the base of the hill. (I’ve since changed the name to LION CUBS, which I think accurately captures what I saw on that day.) We took our photos, said our good byes and headed for the village right next to the hill that serves as the starting point of the ascent. At this point, a little trepidation started replacing the buoyant confidence that was on full display on the ride to the hill, earlier that morning.

The Lion Cubs: myself (left), Kaponda (2nd left), Pacharo (3rd left) and Ron (right)
The Lion Cubs: myself (left), Kaponda (2nd left), Pacharo (3rd left) and Ron (right)

Soon we were up on the trail, and unfortunately, this being a bare piece of rock, it became immediately apparent that I was not going to be able to set the pace. Normally, I will plant myself at the head of the group, and try to control the speed. Novices are too eager and the fearful are not willing to put energy into their step. The art here is to find a balance, and be able to go at a pace that is enjoyable to everybody. A somewhat leisure pace in order to conserve as much energy as possible, while still aiming to reach the top after just one hour.

But on this day, one lion cub went ahead of the queue and took off like a lion chasing a gazelle on the rich savanna plains of Africa. Any effort calling him to slow down were unheeded. Truly this cub could outpace a mountain goat. While he vanished out of site, the remaining cubs went at the suggested pace. However, soon it was apparent that one cub was finding the ascent rather challenging. Focus went to this cub, who responded very well to encouragement but was still digging deep just to find enough to lift himself off the ground and get going.

Later on, we caught up with the first cub, who suddenly looked like he had seen the face of death. He was sweaty, sprawled on the ground, and looked like he was out of air. A cool breeze was all around, but somehow it conspired to avoid brushing against him. The cub was paying for taking off like a cheetah on steroids. We all gathered around the cub and tried to help as much as we could. After the situation was stabilised, the cub fell in line and continued on without further drama.

The third cub, who had been struggling had a renewal of strength by a chance meeting with an old collage mate. Upon being recognised, the cub jumped to his feet, recollected himself and sailed through the air like an eagle. We were all left with mouths opened, jaws dropped, wondering at the transformation right before our eyes. Such was an impact of ego mixed with peer pressure. We sure thank for the mysterious college mate who appeared from nowhere and saved the day.

Soon we were at the top, within the expected time range, and got to witness one last wonder. At the top, there is a pillar which was used by the Department of Geological Survey back in the 1960s and 1970s to mark highest points on hills and mountains across the country. This was part of the system that would triangulate any location within site, with great accuracy, using multiple points marked in the said manner. Today, the pillar acts as proof that you have accomplished the mission. Once you reach it, you know you have made it. It is a very welcome sight.

Lion Cub Pacharo on the Peak
Lion Cub Pacharo on the Peak
Lightweight Lion Cub Ron at the Peak
Lightweight Lion Cub Ron at the Peak
Lion Cub Kaponda at the Peak
Lion Cub Kaponda at the Peak

On this day, the cubs were encouraged not only to stand next to the pillar, which they did, but to stand on the pillar. The first reaction was to say, no, it could not be done. But how could they say it could not be done, when it was their first time on top of Bunda? That was my question. After demonstrating how it could be done, one by one, each cub got to mount the pillar and stood on its top edge, proud and tall. I have never been so moved with emotion to see how the lion cubs, not only conquering their first hill in Lilongwe, but overcoming the seemingly impossible and got to pose on top of the pillar right at the highest peak of this rock dome.

I will forever cherish what I witnessed that day, and hope to see it replicated in all areas of our lives.

The story of the lion cubs will return later this year, when we embark on yet another exciting adventure.

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