Saturday, 16 May 2015

Day 2 - Travels to the Inland Sea (9-May-2015)

We were lulled to sleep by the sound of parties in the streets of Lilongwe last night. However, we were both so tired that this did not interrupt us falling deep asleep. The power was on in the room, so possibly for the last time this holiday, we had the luxury of aircon!

Here is Mike holding the very elaborate do not disturb sign, which we used to make sure, well, that we were not disturbed!

We slept until about 8am, when the power cut out – so we both had very quick showers (quick because it was COLD! Maybe the power cut is actually a water saving device??) before heading to the courtyard at the back of the hotel for our breakfast.

Breakfast was toast, two eggs and fruit salad with tea or coffee. I don't think I've mentioned yet just how putrid the coffee is. It is, I think, mostly chicory – which apparently stems from South Africa (certainly it is the same as the coffee on the South African flight yesterday). Tea is made american style (teabag presented seperately to the luke warm water). For commentary of what British people think of this technique, please watch the first ten minutes of the “Second Best Marigold Hotel”, where Maggie Smith speaks for the nation!

So the eggs and the toast were great (particularly given they were cooked without power – Mike thinks they deep fried my boiled eggs), the fruit salad was fabulous but the beverages left a lot to be desired. Mike was particularly excited that breakfast came with strawberry jam. He made me write that.

The courtyard of the Kiboko Town Hotel was lovely – at the back of the building, so little traffic noise, and at its centrepiece, it had this fabulous climbing frame complete with zebra.
You can see in this photo that it was a grey morning, and it was actually a little chilly. Apparently this is quite normal – and as we were told, the low cloud had burned off by around lunchtime.

We didn't need to meet the rest of our group until 1pm – so we slowly packed and checked out of the hotel before heading back to our favourite New York bar for a coffee / tea (both still wrong in different ways).

We caught sight of a wedding party go past in a stretch hummer... apparently this was imported very recently, and is the big thing in Lilongwe. 

We also worked out where the smell of baking bread was coming from, as there was a bakery right next to our hotel. This photo shows (I think) all the vendors bustling to get the next load of freshly baked bread!

In the cafe, we made some notes of “impressions of Lilongwe” and this is what we came up with:

The streets smell of sweet, freshly baked bread mingled with diesel fumes and charcoal. More than half of the open businesses are electronics shops, or shops that offer to provide you with digital TV. The closed down businesses make the area look a little derelict (rather like Brentford!). The streets are full of Rascal van mini buses cramed to bursting point with sad looking people, and the air is filled with the sound of drivers honking their horns to be let out, to refuse to let someone out or just to let everybody know they are alive.

We sipped our coffee whilst we watched a dilgent young man make a right fist of washing a very smart looking Mercedes (he managed to put the mud from the wheels all over the bonnet and roof – which is actually quite an impressive feat!) We smugly assumed that this was the vehicle that would be taking us to the airport.

We were wrong. The car that we were led to at the appropriate time had an air of neglect that almost felt deliberate. The windscreen had a crack that ran into a big circle around the outer edge of the window. It looked like a strong wind would pop it out. The brakes were no longer lined with anything except shards of metal, and at a roadblock outside the airport, the driver had a long debate with a policeman about his rights to be on the road. This is Africa!

At the airport, I braced myself for the same hoards of porters that had hassled us yesterday – but they never appeared. Grudgingly I struggled with my own bags! We waited inside the arrivals area for the rest of our group to arrive.

At this point, I probably ought to tell you what Mike and I are doing for the next week. J&J have a longstanding relationship with a charity called Open Arms Malawi. Neville is the “Chief Termite” of the charity, and has lived here in Malawi for thirty years. The website for the charity is here but here is a summary.

Malawi has been ravaged by HIV / AIDs, and there are a vast number of AIDs orphans. Open Arms provides orphanages for very small, very sick babies, and this is the very visible part of the charity. The real magic, though, is that the charity also builds the infrastructure to get children back into village life (at the age of about three). Infrastructure includes homes to live in, schools to go to, and crucially, foster mothers to care for the children. The preferred route is to move children back to their extended families, but if there are no living female relatives, or if the family is just too poor, the children are fostered with women who are effectively employees of the charity.

For the next week, Mike and I are volunteering with Open Arms “building” houses (sensibly, Neville also employs local housebuilders who actually know what they are doing... what we westerners bring is awareness (through places like this blog), enthusiasm and critically, money!!)

In the rainy season this year, many of the houses that the foster mothers use were seriously damaged by floods. Tomorrow I will show you some photos, but to put things into context, a safe watertight house costs only £1400 to build... and yet many people here just do not even have that level of stability in their lives. There is another potential humanitarian disaster waiting just around the corner, as the floods also destroyed 30% of the maize crops (which is the staple), and there really is not a stable enough government here to have made any provision for the year to come.

Anyway, back to the airport. We watched an apparently famous church person arrive (greeted by a flock of nuns), a group which looked like rock stars (we later found out they were school children returning from a school trip to Spain) and finally, our compatriots.

We loaded the bags and ourselves into two trucks and headed off into the sunset. This is one of our drivers, Ward, with his vehicle. The other driver was Chief Termite himself, Neville. (I should add, that the Chief title IS honorific, and the local people call him Chief Termite because he doesn't stop working!)

Mike and I travelled half way with Ward, drilling him for all sorts of info and tips, and the rest of the way with Neville, gaining an understanding of the politics of the country.

At the swap over point Mike managed to generate a fight with a bunch of kids by giving one of them an empty water bottle. They can recycle them for cash: the bottles are used to mix and sell local drinks (fruit juices, beer maybe).

On the drive there were people everywhere – I do not think there was a single stretch of road that did not have evidence of human habitation. According to Neville, this gets less intense away from the road, but I think this is a highly populated country.

This is a bad photo of a baobab tree (big trunk) If I take a better photo at some point, I'll post it.

We reached our home for the next week shortly after 5pm, and then watched the light fall out of the sky as the sun set behind us, whilst enjoying a cold beer.

The location here is stunning, as you can see here. We are right on the shores of Lake Malawi. (It's ok, mum, the crocodiles are not real!!)

We feasted on barbeque chicken and rump steak. Neville invited a number of his staff to eat with us, and a local band to play – so there was dancing and drinking until the heady time of 10pm when the world fell asleep!

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