Tuesday, 28 April 2009

No 46 30 April Malawi Moments Part 1

Whilst emptying my suitcase the other night in readiness for another great travel adventure I came across a notebook which I had used as a diary whilst in Malawi last Christmas. This is a book destined to be lost so I've decided to commit some of the more intelligible entries to this blog. Bear with me. A lot happened. What follows below relates to the first two days. The rest is to follow no doubt over time as I find the time to type it all up. Golly I wish my writing was easier to decipher...

Day One Thursday 18 December 08

We arrived in Malawi after a long flight from Heathrow via Kenya. The via Kenya bit should have taken us just two hours. Instead, it involved a cancelled flight, an awful lot of queuing and an overnight in Nirobi. That’s queuing to find out first what had happened to our flight. Then queuing to find out what Air Kenyan proposed to offer us. Then queuing to get through passport control. Then queuing in front of a sign marked "Hotel Accommodation" before shooting off in a rickety old bus for just five hours sleep to do a lot of the same again only in reverse. It was the first test of "Team Malawi" and we passed it with flying colours thanks in large part to a very cool team leader.

At Llongwe airport, Richard the terribly nice man from the car rental company tried to fob us off with a terribly crap 4 by 4 but our terribly nice team leader proved far too sharp for him. By the time we'd driven the vehicle to the hotel in Llongwe another was on order. This time without an ominous rattle and hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock.

Day Two

Today we hoofed it to the local souvenir market. Nephew David tried his hand at negotiating his way to a few bargains. His efforts for a few bracelets left traders with plenty of unexpected early morning happiness and David light of a good few hundred Kwocha. Go on Davs yaboyee..

His Uncle Baggie was taken aback by the goings on in the market. In the space of just a few minutes it had produced a blind man, a frail woman with a baby and a disabled boy in a chair all with their hands out. What was interesting was that they were all effectively in competition with each other but each allows the other a fair go at the wealthy visitor. When the blind man, for example, received a polite no from me he was soon led away to be replaced by someone else ready to try his luck.

Driving in Malawi is quite like nothing else I've ever experienced behind the wheel. As a general rule with minor exceptions the main artery roads appear very good. As a general rule with probably no exceptions all other roads appear to be dreadful with massive potholes that shouldn't be attempted except by the hardiest of 4 by 4s. Running from side to side across every road is the most extraordinary collection of animals you'll find anywhere. There's goats, there's guinea fowl, hens, dogs and cattle, all of which the motorist is expected to pay for if you in the 4 x 4 and any one of the aforementioned should collide.

Along either side of the road runs a conveyor belt of cyclists. Men, women, boys, girls, all going somewhere often with cargo on the back. This may be a chicken, a goat, a drum of water, sticks for the fire, mum or dad, baby brother or a combination of many of these. If you toot about 20 metres before passing they gently glide off to the left and out of your way before returning to the same part of the road a few minutes later. It's all very orderly in this disorderly motoring mayhem.

Alongside the main highways are paths which convey some of the most elegant and graceful women I have ever seen in my life. I'm guessing but I'm guessing that I'm guessing right that these women walk miles upon miles every day. On their heads they carry an astonishing array of items. Huge water containers, sticks, umbrellas, boxes of mangoes and all with such ease. They clock each mile slowly, and gently with arms floating down by their sides but so upright and with such style that it could be a cat walk they're on not a muddy path roadside - something easy enough to imagine as they glide by in gorgeous, brightly coloured dresses and wrap arounds.

There's something rather special about every Malawian. They're gentle folk. The children all volunteer smiles and little waves as we hurtle by. The adults are passive, unassuming people that you can't help but warm to. Even the street traders whose next dinner may depend on a sale from you appear at least, to treat you with respect and enjoy the contact with the strange looking whiteman. We're white!! And every -so strange did you know?

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