Compiled By: Working Class Wanderer- Kathryn Mann
My apologies for the extended silence. The tales of my African Adventures are picking back up, stronger than ever, today. Malawi, the “Warm Heart of Africa” opened to me in so many ways. This will be an accounting of some of that warmth given to me by both locals and travelers.
It’s Time: Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, is not a cosmopolitan hub; it is small with a mixture of old town charm, of years gone by, and some new mall glitz that does not seem to fit. In other words I loved it. The old town market sprawls along the river in a web of paths. It is home to stalls that sell everything imaginable. In this maze I came upon a booth selling a variety of tools. I needed a jeweler’s screwdriver to remove the back of my watch, so I could let it dry out. For the past couple weeks I have been looking through a haze of mist to check the time when needed (rarely).
Two men, Slim and Slimmer, when hearing of my need, pulled out the mother of all combination screwdrivers. It was a double octopus with 16 fold out arms that could hold 6 different heads for various size screws. Not wanting to carry this behemoth I told the fellows of the water in the watch. “No problem, no problem, we can fix it in 10 minutes”. Let me think. This is my only watch. There will come a time when I really do need it. They have as much experience fixing watches as I do performing open heart surgery, so, what the hell. Go for it. I hand them the watch and they light up. Both draw into the task with enthusiasm. Not caring to observe and possibly interrupt with needless suggestions, I wander off to find what I can find.
I return fifteen minutes later, after having a fun conversation and the purchases of a spare pair of sunglasses and hat (my bald head must always be covered in this African sun and I loose hats easily). I find my watch dry and in perfect working order. I tell them I will keep it out of the water. This they took as a bit of an insult, responding “No, we fixed it; you’re OK to go in the water”.
Doctor, Doctor, Mr. M.D. : Ambling along a “sidewalk” in Lilongwe, I feel a person coming up quickly behind me. Not wanting to be a hindrance I step to the side to make room for passing. In doing so, I feel a slight jab of pain to my left shin. The lady passing me says “sorry”, for what I do not know, but as I look down I see a good trickle of blood emanating from a one inch gash on my leg. In seconds it is down to my foot and not looking to stop any time soon. Noticing a sign for a restaurant, I head that direction to request a napkin to clean up the wound. When they see the blood and cut, the staff pulls out all the stops.
One gets a cloth (looked clean) another brings a pan of water and, after removing my sandal, began to clean the cut. Bearing a huge smile, one lady brings salt to rub in the cut. This I am not so sure of, but am given no choice in the matter. Soon there is a trio of, (for this moment) highly trained medical staff, saving my leg from sure amputation. All is well, time to leave. Not on your life bucko. “Sit down, put your leg up on this chair, and wait until we know the bleeding has stopped”. A round of Fanta is purchased as doctors and patient sit around and shoot the breeze. To date, while it is a painful and red throbbing mass of pus, my leg is still there. Just kidding, it does not throb that much anymore.
Where? When? How? : The biggest task at hand is to get a skeleton plan of where I will go next, when do I would move from A to B to C and how can I get there. It was time to make a plan that would carry me to Nairobi. The hosts of the Mabuya Camp, Jean and Paul, were well traveled in Africa and were more than happy to assist.
We kicked around some possibilities. The big questions for me revolved around modes of travel and time needed to get to places I wanted to visit. This was the knowledge they brought to the table. Within 30 minutes a very rough plan was fabricated. They suggested I do some research, make adjustments, and we talk again.
In the evening I reported back my findings. The big plus was purchasing a flight from Pemba, Mozambique to Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. This, they assured me, would save a minimum of three it not four days travel over very rough roads. Later that day I found out what a rough road in Mozambique meant. Thank God for that flight.
The next morning, before I departed, we once again reviewed the long-range plan and made some detailed notes of towns that would carry me to Pemba. As is most always the case, such plans are fluid (save for the flight) and change as information is gathered, but I am happy to have some inkling what I am doing next. The best part was working with and trusting in these two wonderful people.
I’ll Ask Them: Having made it from Lilongwe to Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi, I decided I may as well push on. Cape Maclear was recommended as a much livelier place to spend a few days. Before I could step off the bus there was a fellow offering transportation to the cape. He assured me his was the best price and that no more trucks were heading that way this afternoon. This is not a new story. One hears it at 98% of bus stations. Nothing like a little wheeling and dealing to pass the time, so I get engaged in barter, knowing full well that he is coloring the situation to his advantage. During the back and forth I notice two young ladies and a fellow walking towards a store.
“I’ll ask them” I say to my would-be driver.
“No, no, they are just looking for internet”.
“Just the same, I am asking”.
“We have a ride waiting for us up the road. But we don’t know when he is leaving, or if, but you are welcome to join us”. So much for not knowing anything.
It took some time but finally we were on our way. We land at Fat Monkey and created the least expensive sleeping arrangements possible. The next day some newly-found friends and I took an extensive walk to find a cheap dining place and then to the market. We swam, and read, and shared computers to connect and research. We all had dinner together one evening at Fat Monkey.
That same evening, after spending a few hours conversing and working on our own supply of brandy (much cheaper this way) we head for Club Gecko to enjoy music and dancing. How much fun was it? “Papa” or “uncle”, as I am often called by locals, was at it until 3 AM. When not on the dance floor I was conversing with a wide variety of other revelers.
Without a doubt I had at least 20 years on the next oldest person there. With good people it does not matter and just confirms the message on my “business” card – You don’t stop playing because you grow old; you grow old because you stop playing. So I say, “Play on”
Live, Laugh, Love in Peace -Neil