Valley of the Giants

Drifting south along M-5 in Eastern Malawi the view from the galimoto (car) begins a subtle change as the elevation lowers. Leaving Lilongwe the elevation, at 3,440 feet (1,050 meters) above sea level, started dropping after reaching the crest of the Dowa Mountains. West of here, in the mountains near Dedza, the elevation towers skyward to 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level. Now, after reaching the crest approximately 50 kilometers back, we turn south at Salima. The drop in elevation has been apparent begin to see the result of this drop to 1,771 feet (540 meters) above sea level.  As the temperature rises, and the change brings a visible change in the sub-Saharan landscape. After traveling only a short distance one begins Balbao trees in the Valley of the Giantspassing the giants. It is the valley of giants. Like a military guard they stand sentinel tall as they have been commissioned to guard the valley from unseen intruders. They are the giant stately balboa trees, and some have been standing here since before Christ walked the Judaea hills. They have warded off disease, old age, and long droughts, but in recent years an unexpected enemy threatens their very existence. It is not a new source of danger. It comes from a familiar direction, from within the perimeter of their realm. The threat comes from a long time friend.  Man.

For centuries man and tree have been at peace. This coexistence has allowed the trees to grow freely. They are indigenous to only this region of Africa, and no where else, and they stand as a treasure of time. A growing population, and a reduction of other trees through cutting for firewood, has put them in line for destruction in the quest for materials for the cooking fires critical to the populace. One by one we pass trees maimed or destroyed. One by one we pass the end of  or thousands of years of history, felled for firewood.

Balbao trees being cut to provide firewood.Traveling through the valley of the giants one must wonder how long this will last. It is not as simple as just saying it must be stopped. It is not as easy as to simply pass a law that says the trees cannot be cut, because it is against the law. For the village people who must have cooking fires in-order-to feed their families there is little choice. They cut the trees to survive. Before someone can tell them to stop cutting the trees, an alternative must be given. Solar is one. Other programs like, Shoes for Trees program being conducted by the Malawi Project provide other options for one day providing firewood for the people.


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