Malawi, home of the friendly

Malawi, our 6th country in Southern Africa. We fill up our tanks with fuel (220 liter) and do some grocery shopping before we hit the border with Malawi. Africa is dry and the last few years it has suffered from extreme draught. We heard that it hit Malawi pretty bad a few years back with severe food shortages due to failed crops. Because of problems with import and political instability Malawi has also known periods of fuel shortages. Since we have two tanks and our jerrycans we can drive around for 1600 km before we have to fill up again.In the supermarket Rinus gets into a conflict with some of the locals. Usually the lines for the cash registers are pretty long here in Africa and you would say that after 8 months here we would be used to these lines… Well, no, and especially Rinus has a hard time dealing with it!In some supermarkets, we find out, the trick is to put something on the counter as soon as you walk in. After that, you leisurely fill up your cart, trolley or arms with all the other groceries. Then you walk to the counter, where that one item is still waiting for you. Finally, you skip the line, get in front, since you were obviously there before and “forgot” some more items. People from Africa seem to accept this, they’re friendly and used to wait in line for long periods. Well, Rinus isn’t. He is like a terrier who bites down on his place in the line and will gladly tell everyone in the in the supermarket multiple times how the principle of a proper cue works. When we get to the car, I’m glad our tyres didn’t get slashed in the meantime..It turns out to be a public holiday in Zambia which we find out when we are about to cross the border. All the employees are lazily hanging around in their office, watching the inauguration of the president on a small tv while eating a fresh load of bananas. I stick my head through the small opening in the window to let them know that there are people here waiting to be helped. Eventually, the least lazy officer walks towards us. With his fingers full of banana, which ends up on our passports, he stamps us out of Zambia and we continue to the Malawi side. We fight our way through a thick layer of money changers and get to our car to drive to Malawi.Malawi doesn’t have a public holiday, but they’re not very keen on working either. Fortunately, we are expert border crossers by now, so 45 minutes later we are in Malawi. Our first impression: Malawi is poor, poorer than the other countries we’ve travelled through. We also notice that there are more mosques and muslims to be seen. Here in Malawi, it seems that everyone has a business in something and they will always tell you all about it. As soon as we leave the car they will try to sell you their goods. When we stay in the car they will call you from a distance, or tap your window. When we drive past they still shout out to us from the other side of the street to get our attention.This is all different to the Africa we came from where people tend to display their goods and wait for us to stop by instead of actively walking up and selling it to us. The capital, Lilongwe: we appear to be in a cocktail of raw blues, a sultry but humid heat, covering us in a blanket of exhaust fumes. My feet, worn in flip flops, get very dirty when I walk from our city campsite on the hill down towards the centre. Cyclists come towards me, tense faces to get the old bicycles up the hill.I hear someone walking behind me and step up my pace as much as the humidity allows me. Not enough, I am soon joined by a young man who introduces himself to me. He tells me he goes to school to be a carpenter. Also, he informs me that he grew up in a large family and that his parents don’t live in the city.Even though I was not really waiting for this conversation and I need all my concentration to keep my feet on the small path in front of me, I am answering his questions obligingly.It doesn’t take very long for him to begin his selling pitch. It’s a way of approaching that apparently works for western tourists: Introduce yourself, tell them where you come from, about you siblings, your education and then try to sell your goods when they take a pity on you. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work with me. I get some cash from the machine and with a wad of money the size of a phonebook I start to walk back up to the campsite. I get the same story as before, but this time from an elderly man who I think has long since passed the “going to school” age. Around him I can smell a very pungent body odor, which makes it hard for me to breath the already hot city air. I wonder why he walks up the hill at this time a day, while his younger and smarter colleague walks down… The next morning we meet a young wood craftsman who makes miniature cars. We give a few photos of our Landcruiser and he begins very enthusiastically to build ours. It’s late in the afternoon when we finally leave the city. We get in line behind a long cue of beaten up cars and while dodging the potholes, we get out of the city as fast as we can. Our camp for the night is at a small pottery in Dedza, a small village south of Lilongwe. At night there is a lot of noise and we have a hard time figuring out if it’s a fight or a party. I decide to get out of the tent and make some noise myself by beating against the fence with a stick or something. It’s a full moon and it lights up the whole area, but even so, I still see no one. I climb back into the tent and put in some earplugs before going back to sleep. The next morning the owner of the pottery tells me that the noise had to do with a chicken theft from one of the neighboring houses. The person who lives right behind the campsite had something to do with the theft and the people from the village had decided to tell him, that night, that he will not get away with this the next time. We had just decided to tell him we were moving on, but after hearing this story we decide to stay another day since it will probably be a lot more quiet this time.

Back to all blogs