Sunday, October 26, 2008

Too little of Malawi

But only a week in this little land-locked country in the heart of Southern Africa.

While saying it is "land-locked" would be technically correct, the dominating feature of this pretty country is Lake Malawi. The third biggest lake in Africa. A huge water filled crack, that straddles Malawi to the East. It stands at one end of the African rift valley. Just a couple of years ago I was bobbing on top of the Dead Sea at the other end of that collossal crack in the earth. So much inbetween that I have never seen and probably won't.

A brief glimpse of the city. Blazing purple jaccaranda trees. Shanti. New buildings popping up. A river bed filled with women washing. Suprisingly pleasant. A few drinks in a cool hostel and another cracker-jack Afrikaans lad, screwed up by the army in the 1980's. To quote him "I don't want to have anything to do with that fuckin' country. I am never going back to SA". Marooned in Malawi. No passport or real prospects. A bitter and confused guy with a big knife that he likes to stick in tables at inappropriate moments (I am not sure if there are appropriate moments). Brought up on a twisted idea - apartheid - when it was washed away I guess people like him looked (and perhaps felt) like the shit that refuses to flush.

To the lake. A long arduous journey mostly standing. In Africa there seems always a tendency to over crowd when it comes to public transport. Money can be earned more quickly if you squeeze people on. Short term benefit. Long term it degenerates the buses at double pace. A pay-off. Fascinating chats about politics and a few lessons lessons learned on local history.

Two common sights of those few days - the UBER cool chocalate vender who "strangely" had a lot of service around those parts......and......Dave groaning from his sick bed....

Dreams of lolling down the lake on the few day ferry and climbing southern peaks were both dashed by Dave's violent stomach bug, so all there was left to do was chill by the lake. Fortunately there are few places more suited to chilling then this little part of Malawi. A few huts, some people, some water. A hammock or few, some laid back music and a dhingy to get burned on. Much like all the other backpacker beach bum places around the world but still charming.

One interesting way this place differed from the score or so other such places I've stayed at is that instead of the standard bunch of local ladies who hang around for entertainment and (it sounds synical but is a reality) passports, here the ladies were boys. That is not meant in a quasi Bangkok sense, but rather a reversal of roles. Here it was the men who hanged around and interacted. The women largely kept themselves to the background. I had heard of the male African sex trade where western women fly over to get their kicks in much the same way as middle-aged European men do in Asia, but to allude too much to that would be unfair on this place. Generally just a whole bunch of mostly cool guys hanging out. Where gringo's hangout there is always cash falling out of their pockets and......around here anyway......some fun to be had.
After a couple of weeks fast on the move we came down to speed with the gentlest of bumps. As an added bonus we had some comedy welsh med students to entertain us, along with totally unique "Geography Chris" - the most laid-back aussie I think I've come accross. When we left he might be there a day, a week or several. Then where to? Ahhhh...he'll see. Prob accross the lake and on somewhere.....nowhere particular to head to.....but seemingly his own way....

As a bonus some diving and I could not write about this little place without mentioning the upside down fish, massive catfish of all.....mouth-breeders. The latter being this wee fish that gobble up all their babies for protection, cautiously spit them out for a few seconds to eat and then swallow them all up again at the slightest sign of danger. Very cool.


Those 5 days could have just easily been 2, 10 or 30. It doesn't really matter in that sort of place. Both it's charm, and for me, what makes me leave. At least on this occasion I had very itchy feet and places to go.

Via a further night in the capital, another break-down, more of those beautiful jaccaranda trees and some lovely mountain scenary, we made it Blantyre. We'd barely seen anything of Malawi. A serious pity. From what I could gather a country of charming people in flux. Tyring to move on from the shadow of Dr Banda -t imes of tight constiction and limited progress (during much of Banda's "reign" women were not allowed to wear trousers or men grow long hair).
A place teeming with every NGO under the sun and legions of middle-class Americans trying to change the world. A good thing......?....... well I would have to see a damn sight more of the country to answer that one. For sure as one of the poorest countries on earth with an evermore crippling AIDS epidemic there are problems to solve. Just who, how and when?

Time ticking meant we had to move on to the next stage of our trek - Mozambique. A feeling of an opportunity missed in Malawi, but I was chomping at the bit...............
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