Malawi, Zim and Zambia

19-20 July 2012 – To Malawi

For these two days, repeat ‘doing time’ driving torture diary entry.

On the 19th, we made our way from Dar el salaam to Iringa. Luckily, we left at 530, so my body slept for the first few hours. There’s nothing better than that faraway wonder world of sleep without the boundaries of reality when you need to pass some time.

At some stage; we drove through a deadland of boab trees; bulging, gnarled creatures personified with enormous trunks, growth and scars to indicate the length of their existence. I remember the boab tree was at the centre of religion for some of the Masais. Rebellious Christian Masais attempted to burn a boab tree in order to quash the opposing religion, but the tree was so mighty it did not burn.

We camped at a place that stood out for its entirely odour free drop toilets and it’s scalding hot showers. After dinner, we stomped around in the dark and stumbled  across a barnyard themed bar,  propped on pillows on haystacks with creaking lamps swinging above us, we sipped away on hot chocolates laced with Amarula.

I thanked the weather for being so damn freezing that I teeth chattered and foetal positioned the night away, because it meant more dreamland on the bus the next day.

The journey took us from Iringa to Chitimba, just over the Malawian border. We stopped late for lunch at a school filled with the happiest children you could imagine. Their toe-less joggers or bare feet teamed with the most tattered of hammy downs alarmed us, but the ironic thing is that they seemed more full of joy than any child at home. They stick together, all 60 or so of them, and the little girls tears choked their screams when Chris gave them a soccer ball to replace their ball made of tightly woven plastic bags and string. I felt like the devil, sitting there eating lunch in front of these children whose diet is probably less varied than my dogs.

As we crossed the border, a poignant smell hung in the air, which I described as dry dog biscuits and Brenda thought it was roast potatoes, so you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Deep orange clay housing with stacks of straw piled on, all held down with the odd tire or stick, litter the countryside. The wealthier citizens adorn their abode with a piece of corrugated iron, and once or twice, I even spotted glass in window frames.

Malawi ranks in the worlds poorest ten countries, but what it lacks in riches is made up by the populace, with the country fondly known as the warm heart of africa. Lake Malawi covers one fifth of this southern African country, and we soon came across makeshift fishing villages and piles of the silver triangle fish lined the shores of this life-giving water source.

Children play around piles of bricks and the crumbling remains (or beginnings) of housing. There are enough churches and missionaries to match the amount of housing, and you can almost feel the western worlds chubby white fingers reaching in. However, the string lines of washing are the only splashes of artificial colour evident against the natural backdrop. These parts of Africa are so undeveloped that in the darkness of night, you finally witness the completed puzzle of stars above earths surface in all their burning glory.

Our campsite was another gem stashed away on the sandy shores of Lake Malawi. I went for a lake walk with Brenda, Amanda and cassie in the fading light, and we were propositioned by local men with reliable names like Mr Vegemite, sugar and spice, Mel Gibson, happy Hippo, Pink Floyd and Patrick the Irishman. So we joined on the fun and transformed into the Hot Mamas and Harry Potter.

 

21 July 12 – Kande

 

It was a speedy 5 hour drive to Kande. We made our way out of the rift valley and all ran over to the left side of the bus with our hands squished up against the glass, mesmerized by the sheer rock drop overlooking the vast expanse of Lake Malawi.

Along the way, we stopped at Mzuzu for a local adventure. Liz our cook with the infectious laugh  wrote a list for what she wanted, and we were all given an item to buy. Chris ran in first, obtaining a rough guide on how much we should spend on our item in order not to waste thousands of Malawian kwacha from our food kitty. I went on my mission for spinach, ready to haggle someones shoes off. I spotted some of the dark green, veiny lettuce and asked for a dirt cheap price ( or so I thought) and the guy just smiled and put the spinach in a bag for me. Four big bunches for 80cents. Goddamnit, he didn’t even put up a fight- I must have paid him a fortune!

More piles of dried silver scales glistened on tables and on the ground, every inch of space being used. Salt chips overflowed from bright plastic bowls and children lugged sugar cane sticks double their size.

We continued on, past rubber plantations and somehow even more impressive terrain, until we arrived here at Kande.

I am now lying on Johns hot pink sarong with my cherry (cough syrup) flavored soft drink on this strangely sandy lake front, overlooking the island I will be snorkeling off tomorrow.

I’m admiring my new jewelry additions from Malawi. I only exchanged US $9 to use here because i am an incredibly nifty stinge, so I have to be careful about where I put my pennies. At Mzuzu this morning, I spotted some unique copper bracelets, so I went digging in my backpack and found an old necklace. The necklace, combined with one of mums headbands, scored me seven brackets. I’m never going to spend a cent on souvenirs again!

All of us are perched here under a green beach umbrella. Augusta is sun baking with her age and gravity defying taut, tanned and terrific skin, the most spritely 77 year old to roam the planet. I have been secretly stalking her diet and activities, trying to get some of what she’s got.

Ed is playing his backpacker guitar, and everyone sings along to Dave Mathews, making me feel my age.

Amanda is recovering from her agonizing sunburn from Zanzibar which would put up a good fight against my lamu stint.

We are generally one big happy family, despite a few bordering on inbred relationships between Keira and Ed and Karen and Chris.

 

The evening I wrote my last entry, half the group decided to go wild on tequila shots and Malawian gold (think outside the box). Naturally I couldn’t enjoy the full extent of the party due to my pathetically small stash of local currency. Instead I wrapped myself in a Masai blanket and was entertained by the people dancing on the bar, their bodies writhing and grinding, feeling insatiable while we sober onlookers rolled off our chairs with laughter.

Sunday morning breakfast was appropriately homely. Liz stacked pancake after pancake on a growing tower which we were only allowed to dribble at until they were all ready. After what was forever, I had my carbolicious  pancake round in front of me, draped in lemon and gritty sugar (sugar first always). Eating always stirs conversations about the food niches and discoveries from around the globe. The Americans rave about their foreign phenomena, known as s’mores. S’mores involve a roasted marshmallow and square of Hershey’s chocolate sandwiched between gram crackers.

We Aussies praise the trusty Tim Tam; a nibble from each end and it’s the perfect straw for that glass of milk.

The die hard party animals emerged to gorge on food then withered back to the darkness of their tents. I kissed my US$9 and set off cheerily on a cultural walk of the village. Our guide, Robert, had buck teeth that probably distracted me from taking in about half the things he said. As soon as Nick, Cassie, Amanda and I walked out the gate of the resort, beach boys covered us like flees. We had fun with them though, talking all morning and being genuinely friendly, partaking in a silent, mutual agreement to pretend they weren’t here to suck the money from the affluent visitors of the white world. My friend called himself happy hippo, and I learnt this bearded, rasta, weed symbol wearing man was only 19. He learnt artistry from his late grandfather, and earns his way selling pictures to tourists and carving doors for locals. He has lived with his grandmother and older sister since age eight, when his parents died in a car crash. It is customary that  children under the age of ten do not attend funerals. His parents death was kept a secret from him until his 18th birthday, and even his 11 year old sister joined in on the lie that his parents had gone away for work. His grandmother is 91, a serious feat considering the average life expectancy is 43 (mainly due to HIV/aids). His sister has married and followed the tradition of moving in with her husband, which is located in a faraway village. I suppose Happy will be alone soon, but the sense of community seems quite strong. When a child is born, the mother takes it around to introduce to very house in the community. A great concept.

Robert walked us in all directions, stopping to explain some part of everyday life, which always managed to have us intrigued. Lines and lines of rectangular, clay made bricks lay in front of us, the varying shades of grey indicated how dry they were. One house takes 10,000 bricks to build, and it takes about two weeks to construct. We wondered inside one of the sturdy looking buildings, complete with a manicured garden, corrugated roof and a chicken coup. It was small and homely, probably about the size of a garage back home. It had all of us contemplating why we need sub big houses in the western world. We look at these tiny homes and sympathize for them. What we forget though, is that these people have unbreakable family connections, and survive utilizing only what they require. In our world, children fight to have their own rooms, creating further barriers between families and relationships.

Robert took us past tables laden with pungent cassava,the roots collected and soaked for three days to rid the acidic taste, then laid in the sun to dry. The smell was even worse than vomitus paw paw mum!

Later, when Robert produced a chunk of cassava to sample, I hesitantly nibbled away and discovered how delicious cassava can taste (albeit deep fried and dunked in salt).

We walked through sky high grass and past one of the three water pumps that have been designed to tap into the underground fresh water source. Small children leapt towards us as we came closer to the village, stamping minute handprints all over us with grimy hands. I was struggling with one on my back and one on each hand as we entered the primary school. One thousand students attend, and ten teachers work tirelessly. We were given a speech by the headmaster, who has been teaching since 17 and is soon to retire at 57. I made sure I got the address, because if you go there to volunteer, the local chief permits you to stay at the resort for free. School starts at 630am and finishes about 12, so it’s a damn good deal!

The hospital was next on our agenda, and the male midwife apologized profusely that no women had given birth today, so we wouldn’t get to see a new born. Most women come here to give birth, walking for kilometers from the surrounding region whilst in labour. Keep that in mind while dealing with labour pains, Jessica.

Amanda flipped through the outpatient register and saw that most patients come through with malaria. It is a problem so easily fixed with mosquito nets, but they cost $12, and people simply cannot afford them. The healthcare problems people present with are treated for free, all funded by government.

Robert informed us that we had come to the end of our insightful tour, but i begged him to take us to the church. We entered the small white building laden with a cross awkwardly; we were foreign and we were late. A wooden seat was dragged to the back for us, and the service resumed. The priest even translated the general meaning of the passages into English for us.

Dark Children in contrasting, bright white dresses played on wooden mats, their giggles entwining with the enthusiastic messages from the priest. Fortyish people filled the room dressed in Sunday best and nodding rhythmically, pleased that the priests deliverance was coming direct from the mouth of god. I thought for a moment, if I lived here and knew nothing but feeding my family and pleasing my husband, surely I would surrender to the simple pleasure of faith in religion. This room alone held such a pure, quiet and innocent atmosphere, a heavy contrast to the loud and chaotic streets just outside.

The priest took a seat and a young conductor rose, and slowly a cascade of voices replaced the vacuum of silence. Wave after wave of singing rolled across the room, making the hairs on my arms stand on end and filling my eyes with salty tears. Everyone in the room moved their hand in a uniform beating motion, and I joined. The words made no sense, but the beautiful chorus of united people enlivened me, and reminded me of a group of dirt poor but happy children that burst into song for us on the Kokoda trail. It’s so hard describe, but I think you might already know this feeling.

Before we returned to camp, Happy asked me for money for lunch. He had spent the morning talking to me, apparently wasting valuable fishing time, so now he and his grandmother would go hungry. I caved because he was a nice guy and gave him a dollar from my precious nine.

The afternoon was busied with my freshwater snorkeling adventure. My white south African Vin Diesel lookalike instructor boated myself and two australian couples to a distant island and we jumped in for a bit  of underwater exploration. Vin Diesel casually SWAM BACK to the mainland for a bite of lunch, and we had until when he returned until it was time to go. The freshwater sea world isn’t really something to be raved about. Rocks rather than coral and mutant looking, glowing fish. No, they were all brown and I go thrilled to see a 2cm blue one.

But the Aussies were cool. After a game of knee grazing beach volleyball and our dinner of a whole spit roast pig, we versed them at pool until midnight. I discovered thatLee grew up in Old Bar, and even knows people from Wherrol Flat (pop: 15). So we made the NSW pool team and versed the queenslanders . Everyone was pathetic, but I’m pretty sure we came out on top (role reversal to Origin).

Lee paid me out for being at ADFA (he was in defence for a few years) and I criticized him for working in the mines. He knew I was easy to stir up, and blatantly dismissed my rebuttals, saying daddy funded my trip because there was no way I could afford it. You’ve got to love Australian boys.

 

VIC FALLS MISSING DIARY PART

 

1 Aug 12 – What an appropriate date to be leaving Africa and begin the new chapter of traveling. However, it just wasn’t meant to be. Our British Airways plane sat teasingly before us, reportedly broken. I wasn’t too stressed and had my head buried in a book. The word in the ‘port was that spare parts were being flown in to repair the steering. I got chatting to a picture perfect elderly Mexican couple who had been in South Africa to attend a congress. The lady, Marie, invited me to go and assist in her personal NGO in a native village in Mexico. Hell yes!

British Airways began handing out free sandwiches and drinks due to inconvenience, and I was more than happy to bask in their apologies. My stomach muscles slowly unclenched, set in a rigid ball after spending a spur of the moment two and a half grand for an eight day tour in Egypt which begins on the 6th. I really will be a backpacker after spending this fortune, ‘living on road kill’ (Daniel’s saying) and all the fun fun trimmings that associate poordom.

After wasting six hours in the airport, we were finally reissued flights for the next day and carted off to a hotel for the night. I was buzzing with happiness because my new flight skips the 12 hour London stopover I was supposed to endure. After camping for the past two months (apart from a stained, lice ridden bed in Lamu), I couldn’t be more excited to stay in a real bed. And what a bed it was! A room at Elephant Hills in Victoria Falls normally costs $180, and here I was spending my final night in Africa in material bliss. There is a god! Tennis courts, palm ringed swimming pool, gym, delectable dinner with two sets of knife and fork and newfound airport friends. I think Pa might have had something to do with this from his resting sport upstairs 😉 I packed all the mini body lotions I could fit and even reveled in a bubble bath.

 

We arrived in Johannesburg 30 hours later than expected, and I casually strolled to the EgyptAir counter for a late evening flight. The pulse started when the attendant had trouble finding my name on the system and legged it into a full blown sprint when she told me I certainly wasn’t on the flight. I rushed around headless chicken style, teeth bared and on a warpath for the British airways office. I found the familiar faces of the delayed flight in a long line at the British Airways office, all dealing with the same issue – we had all been given fake tickets yesterday! Scoundrels! When I finally got my turn, I switched on the wobbly lip and waterworks and said my tour had already started in Cairo. I got double sympathy for being pathetic rather than angry and I was just a poor, lonely female. The attendant worked on my ticket alone for a half hour and I slipped away from the raging beasts that are impatient humans. I undertook a classic airport sprint and arrived at the terminal just as the flight was boarding. Goodbye, Africa!

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