Weekend Malawi-Style

Friday was my ‘work at home day’. I got quite a bit done in the morning…although my workshop presentation did not progress as much as I intended.

Around lunch time, Ben and Annie arrived at my room. They had just returned from the village where they volunteered. We agreed to meet over in their ‘lounge’ area to share lunch time. Lunch was a bit of this and a bit of that. I still wasn’t back to my regular appetite, but I managed to have a bit of fruit, some juice and my soya nuts. I really enjoy hearing Ben’s and Annie’s tales of life in the village working with the children.

Ben had discovered that there is a wireless signal in their living area that is available for free from time to time. So, I brought my lap top down to their lounge area and Annie and I discovered that we could get a connection. So, I did some emails and checked on the blog. Then I worked on my COWLHA materials for a while.

Around 2:30 p.m. a call came through about some money I had been trying to get wired to me by VISA. (The lack of a PIN number on my VISA card continued to be a problem and this, as it turned out, was the only way to get around the problem.) This was the outcome of a rather tortured process….that required intervention by my good friend and colleague, Kate Revington, from the Canadian end. For those who may travel to Malawi in future – be sure to have a PIN on your credit card AND make a note that it is impossible to call collect from Malawi!!!

With the 2:30 p.m. call, I received information on how to pick up the money at a Western Union office in Lilongwe. The offices close at 4:00 p.m. and the money had to be picked up within 3 days (…not 3 business days)…..so the race was on. I had to pick it up on Friday as we were planning to leave for Senga Bay at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and wouldn’t be back until some unknown time on Sunday.

Patricia was great….she came along with me to try and track down the closest Western Union office and get there before 4:00 p.m.! Remember….we are in Malawi….and people can’t really explain how to get from here to there without depending on landmarks….which you may or may not know. There are very few street signs. There are no addresses in the phone book or in other tourist pamphlets advertising banks, money transfer locations, etc. We were told that the Western Union office nearest to us was located inside the “People’s” store. What they didn’t tell us is that the People’s store was formerly called the “Metro” …..and that’s the big sign on the front of it. No “People’s” signs anywhere!!!

In any event, after asking a lot of questions and taking a route that was more than just a little circuitous, Patricia and I arrived at Western Union….just in the nick of time!! I got my money transfer making me feel much more at ease going into my final week in Malawi.

On Friday night, Ben, Annie, another WUSC student, Kristen, Patricia and I all went to Mama Mia’s for dinner. My appetite was beginning to re-emerge and I order a fairly plain pizza. It was a lovely thin crust pizza and I managed to get about half of it into me and took the other half home to tuck in my wee fridge in my room. (It will be lunch or dinner one day this week.)

Adventure to Senga Bay

Around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, Kathy Stiles, the Regional Director for WUSC, came to pick us up to go to Salima/Senga Bay. Kathy is based in Botswana but has been in Malawi most of this week for meetings and to have a chance to visit with various WUSC volunteers. She kindly offered to drive a group of us to Senga Bay …..which makes it so very nice. We don’t have to take the bus…meaning we can stop along the way and come and go as we please.

Joining us were Kaitlin and Christine – two longer-term WUSC volunteers based in Blantyre.

The drive to Senga Bay was so very interesting. One can really get a much better sense of how the average person is living. Along the road, you see clutches of thatched roof houses – often round – that represent a family living together in community. There were goats everywhere….some pigs. You see things being carried along with help from a bicycle….everything from bales of reeds used to make thatched walls, fences, etc., bales of reeds used to make wicker (baskets, furniture, hats, toys), pigs (dead & ready to be butchered), bags of corn, bags of charcoal (used for cooking fires), bales of sugar cane, multiple people (!!)…..

You will see billboards carrying key messages from government.  For example, Malawians need their nurses but they are hard to find and keep. The President has named them “angels”:

Malawians need their nurses but they are hard to find and keep.  The President has named them "angels"

The land is rolling hills. It’s quite dry right now and the trees are losing their leaves. It is the end of harvest time and the thatched bins are loaded with ears of corn. They remain husked and the bins are emptied as the corn is needed. Rice and other grains are spread on the ground in neat squares (on cloth) to dry.

We saw boys with mice skewered on sticks. They are selling the mice to eat. We saw communities which were part of agricultural initiatives to use irrigation. They had stands with neat rows of tomatoes and cabbages for sale. There were all kinds of people, goats, cows, dogs, sheep walking along the road as we drove through to Senga Bay.

It’s Saturday, but there are still lots of people walking to church. The women are all wearing the same head scarf for their church. As you pass the churches, you see groups of men and groups of women gathered under the trees for bible studies. There are Muslim men and women, too, recognizable by their head wear and clothes.

As we got closer to Lake Malawi, there are more and more roadside stands selling wicker. This is a product that the area is well known for. Wicker mats, wicker baskets and plant stands, wicker furniture – chairs, couches, shelves, beds, wicker hats….you name it!! We stop to buy a few things, bargaining to bring their initial prices down to something a bit more reasonable!

We arrived at the “Livingstonia” and enjoyed the first little while on the beach. It wasn’t very hot and it was windy, but it was a very pleasant place to spend a Saturday. A local band came down to the beach to play Malawian tunes for people. The band was made up of musicians playing some typical instruments (guitars, for example) but also some not-so-typical instruments – a wire looped with bottle caps was a percussion instrument that the drummer used. There was a stand-up bass, too. It was not like the ones we see ….an African drum at the bottom with a single string attached on a long flat board. It made a wonderfully distinct bass sound!

Here’s the view from our room:

The view from our room of Lake Malawi when we stayed at Senga Bay.

We were joined by Halid and his wife Rhoda. Halid is a veterinarian from Tanzania on a south-to-south exchange facilitated by WUSC and involving Vets without Borders. He is one of the few – if not the only – veterinarians in Malawi. He is working with dairy farmers in the Mzuzu area….but he gets involved in all sorts of veterinary activity. Once people know he is around, they flock to him to get his help and advice.

The whole group of us ate lunch together on the patio, overlooking the vista offered by Lake Malawi! We lounged for the afternoon, walked over to a nearby curio market to do some bargaining, and just enjoyed the chance to be at the beach.

A fisherman in a dug-out canoe on Lake Malawi

Dinner on the patio was another time for us all to visit and share stories. It gets dark so quickly and early in Malawi, that we all found ourselves tucking into bed in good time. Patricia and I shared a room together. It was quite comfortable and very posh by Malawian standards.

Back to Lilongwe

Sunday we spent the morning on the beach. It was a little less windy and the sun was very pleasant.

We left in good time so we could get the two young women who are based in Blantyre back in time to catch their bus. The trip by bus to Blantyre is a good 4 hours…assuming no delays…from just various, random Malawian factors!!

The drive back to Lilongwe provided another opportunity to drink in the views and scenery typical of rural life in Malawi.

Sunday night Kathy took Patricia and I for dinner. We picked up another WUSC volunteer, Kristen, who is living and working at the refugee camp on the edge of Lilongwe. Kristen is teaching in the school at the camp and it was quite interesting to hear her accounts of life there. She and Kathy were talking about the 5 young people from the camp who have been selected to go to Canada to live and study under the WUSC refugee-sponsorship program. There is such excitement for the 5 who will be leaving for Canada in August. While I will not have time to visit the camp, Kathy has promised Patricia that she will instruct the WUSC office to make sure she has a chance to go and visit before leaving Malawi. (Patricia’s assignment is a week longer than mine.)

Dinner was at an Indian restaurant in Lilongwe. The food was fantastic! I had curried cashews…so yummy. Cashews, peanuts (ground nuts) and macadamia nuts are all readily available in Malawi.

All in all….it was a wonderful weekend that – thanks to the generous hospitality of Kathy Stiles – was full of great new opportunities to see and experience Malawi.

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