BRIAN MALAMA, Mfuwe
AMERICAN war veteran, Maxwell Wallace considers himself a lucky man. He is now settled in a wild camp in Mfuwe, in a remote part of Zambia.
He served in the first US-Iraq war, which left some of the soldiers with horrendous stories.
While some of the ex-soldiers are still being haunted by the effects of the war, he takes refuge in the wild that surrounds him at Zikomo Wildlife Camp.
Mr Wallace, who is slightly over 50-years-old, speaks in a very quiet voice but he exudes a strong character as he begins to get into the nitty-gritties of his personal life.
â€œI believe I was more prepared to deal with the aftermath of the war than many soldiers I served along with. It is a great feeling to be out here in Zambia enjoying the natural endowment this country is blessed with.â€ Mr Wallace observed.
Mr Wallace, who now jointly owns Zikomo Safari Camp with his parents recounts how he was persuaded into settling in Zambia on account of its abundant wildlife and warm-hearted people.
With the war over, Mr Wallace had planned to relocate to a Spanish speaking country in South America. Little did he know that a visit to Zambia by his parents in the late 2000â€™s would change his course forever.
â€œI love the animals and I looking forward to making a change. As a conservationist, it is amazing to see animals in their natural habitat, watching them hang out and some of them coming into our camp at night. â€œMr Wallace said.
He notes that having grown up in Hawaii, which has some topological similarities to Mfuwe, Zambia feels like home to him.
Hawaii, is 5000 miles off the California. For him, growing up in that part of the world was fan, like for any child in any part of the world.
â€œI had great fan growing up, surfing on the sea, playing on the beach very much like this place, very lush and tropical. I grew up in very poor conditions and I had torrid times fending off bullies in the neighbourhood,
â€œI grew up as a tough boy as I was subjected to a lot of fights and provocations from the lads.â€ Mr Wallace recounted.
He went to school at Kiloware Primary School and subsequently graduated with a Degree in business management.
Mr Wallace volunteered to serve in the first Iraq war because he had offered to help his college gain experience in military warfare.
The war veteran was not scared to serve in the war and he does not know whether it was a blessing or a curse as fear is a waste of time.
â€œNothing to fear that fears,â€ Mr Wallace notes.
His parents had for a long time toyed with the idea of setting up an investment outside of America though he envisaged a place with plenty of water and where the native people spoke Spanish.
â€œAnd so, they came to Zambia in Africa and they fell asleep and as they say, once the dust is on your feet you canâ€™t get it off. I am sure they tried and perhaps failed. I am glad they found this little jewel here in South Luangwaâ€, Mr Wallace recounts.
The journey to set up Zikomo took long as the red-tape in the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Commerce and the Zambia Development Agency took its toll on him.
â€œCan you imagine it, I came to Zambia in 2009 and only started to set up this place in 2011 and now it is fully operational. It is not pleasant but here we are now on top of things. â€œMr Wallace said.
At Zikomo tourists are forewarned upon arrival to be wary of Chicky – a resident elephant with one crocked tusk, having lost the other in a fight.
Chicky does not like to see a person with a head dress as that prompts an attack. He is best avoided by keeping him at a safe distance.
Wallace, who now speaks Njanja fluently, says he has fallen in love with the area and he plans to set up Nsefu Wildlife Foundation Trust a non-profit charity as a means of paying back to the community in Mfuwe.
â€œNsefu Wildlife Foundation Trust will give back 50 percent to the local communities here; we intend to build schools and hospitals for people living in the game management area. We have to pay back the communities. â€œMr Wallace said.
The project has so far engaged women in a sewing programme and all the linen will be sold to lodge owners in the park. The project will also provide training and empower men and women in bee keeping as a way of reducing the human â€“ animal conflict in the area.
The other 50 percent will go towards anti-poaching drive. This is intended to keep away poachers from the Safari camps
In the course of the interview, Wallace gets distracted by an Egyptian Geese squabbling in a lagoon across a Chalet and he bursts into laughter with excitement. â€œLook at that! This is so beautiful. Itâ€™s all nature. This place is awesome. I just love it.â€
Mr Wallace further adds that he intends to enlist with the department of Parks and Wildlife to train as a game ranger next year. He is concerned about rampant poaching in the area.
â€œTell you what, we get to hear a lot of gun shots and animals get agitated with the indiscriminate poaching. The hunting ban on big cats played a significant contribution here. He noted.
He advised Government to take a leaf from other countries by implementing conservation policies that protect the fauna and flora.
â€œThis place is predominately a holiday resort and no one wants to come here and spend lots of hours looking for a lion and other wildlife. Then a poacher from nowhere comes gun-otting the very precious animals we want to preserve for tourism?â€
Sadly for him, the lion population is slowly dwindling, with only 20, 000 left.
The elephant population has also not been spared. It is under threat in the South and North Luangwa National Parks where stocks well over 100, 000 have since drastically reduced.
Hippos are being killed at a fast rate and for him this is a travesty.
He suggests that Government should hike fees for safari hunting and lower the ones for game ranching as a way of preserving wildlife.
He is not married and he looks forward to finding a wife.
â€œI am still single and look forward to getting lucky right here in the bush.â€
Mr Wallace, who has fully integrated with the community in Nsefu Game Management area is famous for his love for Chibuku (Shake-Shake) which he imbibes every morning and evening time.