* I couldn’t visit Africa and miss this chance to quote Toto*
In my last post, I introduced the mind-bending beauty of Malawi. It was supposed to be rainy season when I arrived, but unfortuantely for the people of Malawi, the rains didn’t come. They stayed away until January. For a country that relies on its crops, not for income but for subsistence, this is distasterous. Most people had planted their maze (corn) at the time when the rain was meant to begin and had then watched as their crops failed. Without the funds to replant, parts of the country were put on famine watch. Add to this the fact that the country was in the middle of a fuel crisis, a forex crisis and had political management that had become internationally problematic, it was a tough time for Malawi. It was also a tough time for Erin and Jordan. They were in the process of wrapping up their work for H.E.L.P Malawi, pack to head back to the US, apply for school and make plans for how to manage the things they would be leaving behind (such as their house and land, you know, just a couple of little things). And on top of this, they had had visitors non-stop for a while, so you can imagine just how busy they were. I decided to give them a little respite and head up to the north of the country for my own little adventure. While we were at the lake for New Years Eve, I chatted with Dawn about her boyfriend’s lodge in Livingstonia. It sounded pretty epic, so I threw my bag together and hit the road. Due to the fuel crisis and the fact that the rains had finally begun, I thought this might be a challenge but with the help of some very friendly people, I ended up doing pretty well. I had gotten used to wearing chitenji (traditional skirts) everyday, but because my first stop was to be the capital city, I got all excited and put on my trousers. I squeezed myself into a bus with about 3 times more people then I thought would fit, some chickens, bags of maze flour and sacks of charcoal. I made friends with the bus conductor over a snack of roadside cucumbers and a chat about Western music (not the cowboy kind). This ended up being a very good thing. As we got closer to the city, he told me that there was “some violence” near the bus depot so I would be dropped off somewhere else. We left everyone else at the depot and then I was taken to another bus that would take me directly to a guesthouse. There I found out that the violence had been completely directed at women not wearing the skirts. Hearing that, I quickly pulled mine out of my bag and changed. The trousers could wait for Europe. The next day I took a bus to Mzuzu, which was having the same problem. When I got of the bus there, I heard “Hey Mzungu, I like your chitenji!” Relief! The managers of the Mushroom Farm Lodge met me there and we headed off to Livingstonia. When the Scottish first arrived in Malawi, they tried to settle in a number of different places, but everyone kept dying from malaria. So, they headed up to the highest plateau they could find and set up there and avoid the mozzies.
That means that to get to Livingstonia, you have to first get up the side of a massive, super steep hill. We were in a 4×4 and were ready to make the attempt. The road had been described to me as memorable. That is not how I am going to describe it. It was a series of the tightest hairpins and some of the steepest pitches I have seen. And it was rocky. Very rocky. Memorable just doesn’t do this road justice. But we managed to arrive and reward ourselves with a Carlsberg Special (sadly, Carlsberg has a monopoly in Malawi). I stay at the lodge for a few days, visiting Livingstonia, the local waterfalls, and taking in the amazing view of the lake from high up above. when it came time to leave, I put my bag on my back and started walking down the hill to the main road. I was lucky enough to meet up with 3 teenagers from Livingstonia who were also heading down the hill and knew all of the shortcuts. Walking down made me really appreciate the ride up! Once at the road, I flagged down a minibus and squeezed in for the ride back to Mzuzu, where I got in another minibus to head to Nkhata Bay. This was the slowest ride I had in Malawi. We stopped dozens of times to pick up snacks, groceries, water and charcoal for the driver. When we finally arrived in the bay, I made my way to a guesthouse I had been told about while in the capital; Big Blue Star. There weren’t many people around due to the fuel crisis and the fact that the rains had finally started. This was pretty lucky for me as I got to pretend I was important and roam around wherever I wanted (I was even lucky enough to have a room upgrade). I hung out with one of the local peace corps volunteers and got the low-down on the best food in town and other little knowledge goodies. I also wandered down to the other end of the Bay and found a lodge with an excellent volunteer program and a very cool atmosphere. Eventually, I had to leave Nkhata Bay. I went back to Mzuzu for a night in order to catch the early bus the next day. I had heard about a guesthouse that was run by the local church and went off in search of it. I thought I found it, arranged for a bed and went for a walk around town. It turns out that this was not acutally the gueshouse. I ended up sleeping in the church. It was great! I met a woman who was a teacher in a very rural village and was just in town for a meeting. She was astounded by the fact that I had a computer in my bag, and let it slip that she had never actually touched one. So, we sat down together and played with my laptop until it was time to go to sleep. What a crazy and fun experience! The next day I took the 6am bus (which actually left at 7:30) to the Capital, then got another bus to Machinga. It was a long day, I arrived at the Machinga house around 10pm and was very happy to find Alicia (a local peace corps response worker) in the livingroom waiting for me. Erin and Jordan soon arrived and we had some reunion beverages and chatted till the wee hours. The next day, Erin and Jordan had to work, so Alicia and I hung out, figured out how to start the fire and cook in the cooking hut and played “how could you decorate this room” for a while. It was a great day that got me starting to think about what it will be like to actaully have a space of my own again….ahhhhhh, someday! I only had a few more days in Malawi, so I tried to get as much Erin and Jordan time in as possible. However, as with every visit, this one had to come to an end. The time had come for me to head back to the Capital and fly out to Spain. This time, I wore my Chitenji on the bus and managed to avoid any stories of “a little violence”. I found my way to the airport assuming that my adventure had come to an end. Wrong! When I arrived, I was surprized to see a lot of people wandering around in zhitenji covered with the face of the President. It turns out that he was scheduled to arrive at the airport just before I was due to leave. this meant that the official military band, a dance troop, soldiers, and a ton of people from his political party. Keep in mind that the country has been having a lot of problems and that this President has not exactly been responsive or helpful. It was a very strange experience. But as much as others were displeased with this big show, I thought it was very nice of him to come and send me off like this! (I know I shouldn’t make light of it, as the concerns associated with him and his practices are very valid, but I just couldn’t resist!). Once he cleared out of the way, the rest of us could get on our planes and head off. I was saying goodbye to the warmth of Malawi and heading to Spain. It would be another long trip, first flying to the Congo, then Addis Ababa, then Milan and finally Madrid but it would be so worth while. I was about to be reunited with more friends and was very excited to see them!