Tomorrow morning immediately after breakfast we’re leaving CCAP Likhubula House for the weekend to try and summit Mt. Mulanje and reach the peak Sapitwa.
It’s going to be quite a feat if I make it to the top. The climb should require a full day of climbing tomorrow just to reach the first hut at the plateau. We spend the night at the hut and then on Saturday we try and reach Sapitwa. We’re doing all of this while only having peanut butter, bread and water for all meals. I’m sincerely hoping I don’t get sick on the mountain. Climbing or descending the mountain whilst vomiting and suffering diarhea is not how I’d like to spend the weekend. So Sunday night when I return (or god forbid sooner) I’ll update the blog to let you know how I did.
Today we had Carl from the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust come up to our house to brief us on what we’ll be doing during our internship with MMCT. I was really surprised by the broad mandate the MMCT operates under. I had assumed they were only concerned with illegal deforestation, but they’re incredibly involved with the local villages as the mountain plays a direct role in the lives of the thousands of people that live in Mulanje District. Some projects we can work on are as diverse as biodiversity, training local porters and carvers entrepeneural techniques, coordinating household surveys, as well as general administrative work within MMCT and in collusion with other NGO’s.
We’re also being afforded the opportunity to volunteer at the local secondary school to assist the teachers there with English instruction as well as other subjects.
Mulanje is really a blessed place, and is true depiction of Africa. I had heard of “Africa Time” when I was in South Africa, but here it really holds true. It takes forever to do even the most ordinary tasks. A trip to the market in Chitakale which is only 8 miles (14 km) away can take up to 6 hours. We went to the market today and the way back we had to cram into a minibus with at least 12 other people. The mixture of BO and the smell of dried fish combined with the scorching sun was enough to make me almost puke in the bus.
The one thing that has begun to bother me though is that “white man tax”. The group is starting to learn to circumvent it but virtually every Malawian expects something from you in one form or another. Minibus drivers are the best example as they’ll tell you the price back to Likhubula, and suddenly once you get there the price went up another 100 kwacha. We realized that its easier to fall victim to this scam when you have larger bills, so we’ve begun to only carry smaller bills in order to claim that “we don’t have anymore”. The men who carve walking sticks for hikers have been stalking our compound for the past 2 days because word has spread through the village that we’re hiking this weekend. Dr. McCusker explained how since there isn’t too much for the locals to do, the village society is one giant soap opera. Some of our group went to a tiny store once and the man behind the counter knew exactly where they had been the previous day, purely through his neighbors telling him about it.
Life in Malawi, as I’m sure has been clear through reading this blog, is so extraordinarily different from life back home, but also at the same time similar. People want the best for themselves and their families just as we do back home. Though there are certainly cultural differences, my thesis that “people are people” still holds true for me. Their children laugh and play games just as American kids do. The men drink and talk just as back home. And the women gossip and argue likewise. Perhaps one profound difference is how friendly everyone is though. Cynically speaking they’re probably extra friendly to us because they want money, but I know that it isn’t always the case. Today while Josh, Ian, Emily and I were waiting for the minibus a flatbed truck drove by in the other direction. Some locals next to us shouted at the driver in ChiChewa and suddenly the lorey turned around and picked us up in the direction of Chitakale. The local men next to us, not wanting us to wait too long for a ride had negotiated for the truck to turn around and go back to where they had just come from. Just another example of why Malawi and it’s people are affectionately known as “the Warm Heart of Africa”.