Ok, so I arrived safe and sound in Malawi. Another grueling itinerary in the books and I am now sitting here at the CCAP Likhubula Lodge in rural (read again: rural) Malawi.
Dr. McCusker met us at Chileka International Airport (not with just one terminal, but only one gate) in Blantyre, Malawi. We crammed into a Matatu (minibus) and began the hour and a half journey to Mulanje. We quickly found out a cultural lesson. At a police roadblock (which they apparently hold to inspect cars and their cargo) one of the students in the front of the bus took a picture of the mountain behind the roadblock. However one of the men at the roadblock with the police thought that he took a picture of him. As we soon found out, Malawians have a weird thing about their photo being taken. The man and his friends had the police stop our car and demanded to know why we were taking pictures of them. They said it was a “great offence” and they demanded for him to get out of the car. Every bad movie about Africa has some scene where tourists at a roadblock get beaten, mugged or worse and the thought of that couldn’t escape my mind as Dr. McCusker got out of the minibus to argue with the men explaining that he didn’t know any better. After about 10 minutes of heated argument, the problem was presumably resolved and we were permitted to go on our way. Hell of a way to start a trip only 2 hours old.
Where we’re staying is in a very rural village in the Mulanje area of southern Malawi. The CCAP Likhubula House is run by a Presbyterian church who often hosts missions (one of which is supposed to arrive here soon from Pittsburgh). The lodge is situated in front of the beautiful Mount Mulanje and everyone has been complaining that when they show their photos to family and friends no one will understand why all they have are pictures of the same mountain.
Today was probably the most African day of my life and for those that know me that is saying quite a bit. We started the morning early and explored our new living area and discovered our beautiful surroundings.
After lunch Dr. McCusker organized a mandatory walking tour of the surrounding villages so that we’d be familiar with our surroundings. We walked around the forest reserve and made our way down to the village.
I truly cannot stress enough the depth of the poverty in Malawi. Even from the minibus ride we were struck by how many people are just hanging around the roads with nothing to do. This poverty is best exemplified by our surrounding villages. The roads are made up of red dirt which has been trampled and compressed so often that it now is almost a road of brick and dust. Cars or motorcycles are rare as the road is mostly littered with people walking on its edges. Walking isn’t the preferred method of travel for Malawians, it’s the only method for the majority. The village market consisted of a bunch of unfinished and/or dilapidated buildings that to us looked vacant. It wasn’t until we saw people coming and going from them that we realized that these were in fact the shops. We grabbed some drinks at “Club Sapitwa” which is essentially a mangy shack with an outdoor area and a refrigerator with beer inside, very similar to a shabeen in South Africa. The locals typically drink during the day as most people here go to sleep as soon as the sun sets, and wake up as soon as it rises. So there we were awkwardly drinking beer or soda with the locals in Malewa. Quite a sight.
There were several children following us as we walked around the village and outside of Club Sapitwa they gathered with their “soccer ball” which is literally a bunch of plastic bags clumped together and held by rubber bands. I bought a soccer ball for us to play with here at the lodge in Blantyre, and I now know which kids will be the recipients of that ball when I leave. Watching the kids and the girls from our group play soccer with this odd excuse for a ball outside a shabeen in rural southern Malawi was truly some kind of scene from a UNICEF commercial. The girls taught the children how to play patty-cake as well as duck duck goose. The other kids came up to us and asked us how we were doing. Really a very unique and touching experience. I was really impressed with how these people really have so little yet seem blissfully unconcerned with their poverty and instead enjoy what they do have, in this case a soccer ball of plastic bags and rubber bands.
I really learned a lot in these first two days, and the thought of having over 28 days left here makes me eager for the things to come. By the way internet is excruciatingly slow here so I’ll try to update this blog as much as possible when I get the opportunities to do so. I have yet to figure out how to operate my blackberry here so to those expecting a call from me please be patient. There aren’t any payphones here and if I don’t get my blackberry working I’ll have to buy a cheap $20 cell phone. So sit tight.
So that’s all for right now. We’ve come to liking the tradition of going to bed really early here so in that spirit I’m going to rest.