I started it weeks ago, but you know how time ticks by.
Transition is hard. So much to learn. So much emotion to juggle and change to adapt to. So much deep breathing which, frankly, takes time and energy…
Well I’m here now. So as my dear mum would say, ‘just get on with it.’
Malawi “The warm heart of Africa” is a land of many charms. She is coming out of the dry season, and everyone here tells me that the land is thirsty now, yellowing grass and bare leafless branches tell that the rains came long ago. But I cannot see it. After the dry arid dessert of Burkina this is a landscape that nurtures my soul and I am breathing it in deeply.
I love the early morning drive to school, which takes us along leafy avenues where the early morning haze drifts sleepily through the palms and purple blossoms of the Jacarandas. And those of you who know me, know that, if I actually have my eyes open and am actually noticing these things at the ungodly hour of 6.30am, it must be good, besides who wouldn’t fall in love with a country whose tree’s are so exotically named ‘frangipan’ and ‘flamboyant’ and ‘Jacaranda’.
Lilongwe is a small city and feels very relaxed after the hustle and bustle of Ouagadougou. There are less people on the streets, less dust, less pollution, less rubbish, less heat. All of which, I embrace gladly. But there is a little less ‘heart’ too. Ouaga was throbbing, vibrant and intense. Lilongwe feels more like a big leafy suburb, which hasn’t quite woken up, and might just miss the last train….
It feels a little like something has been robbed…I think its probably fair to say we English have rather a lot to answer for. But that’s one for another post.
Me being me, I spend a lot of time observing. I went into the market and spent a while watching the men ironing the creases out of second hand clothing which had been crammed into big parcels from abroad. They sprayed water onto each individual garment and then used their bare hands to press and ‘iron’ each item to presentability. I couldn’t believe it actually worked. It took time and a good deal of effort but it worked. They buy a bundle for a few thousand kwatcha, not knowing what items are packed inside. They then sell the individual items at a profit. One lady opened her bundle only to find a large adult sized chicken suit in amongst the various clothes. She looked a tad confused, to say the least. Not much need for adult chicken suits in Malawi, it seems.
I never cease to be impressed by African resourcefulness. Like the Individuals who have set up business charging peoples mobile phones from a power source – imagine having to take your cell phone to the market to be charged twice a week. We take so much for granted.
I am surprised to see that most vendors and fruit sellers here are male. I had gotten so used to the women of Burkina carrying more than half their body weight in fruit upon their heads, sometimes impressively balanced in the most precarious way, whilst carrying a baby on the back and riding a bicycle, so I cannot help but be rather unimpressed with the men here who tend to lollop around on street corners holding out a wilting cabbage, calling me ‘mama’, or worse still, ‘baby’ and telling me how broke they are.
Some say that Malawi is ‘Africa for beginners’. I get why. Its definitely slower, more relaxed, gentler somehow, but I have quickly realized that ‘day to day’ living is going to be full of challenges. The power cuts and water cuts are daily. I have met international families who have recently been without running water every day from 6am to 6pm, and this is in the diplomatic area of town. You simply cannot do without good backup systems – big backup water tanks, big backup invertors, and a big kick butt generator. People have gone weeks without basic food sorts like sugar and, much to my dismay, its been very hard to source carlsberg recently, but the biggest crisis by far, right now, is fuel. Sometimes there simply isn’t any. For days and days and days. Then when it arrives… you can imagine, its absolute pandemonium. The lines for fuel are breathtaking, and people literally sit for entire days, sometimes only to get to the front of the line, and be told ‘Sorry, its all done’. One friend told me that back in April she had her car in a fuel queue for 5 days waiting for the tanker to arrive, and her workers were on 8 hr shifts. Sitting. Waiting.
Rich and I were just, this evening, discussing how deeply satisfied we both feel when we know we have a full tank, and how when the petrol gage drops to below ¾ full, I actually start to get anxiety, and how very slightly worrying it is to us that our day to day equilibrium (not to mention my mental health) is hanging in the balance, dependant on whether or not we have a full tank of fuel.
Infact today, we have three full tanks and two full jerry cans, and we are beyond smug, we are verging on euphoric.
The house we are due to move to, in the New Year, actually has an enormous hole dug in the garden with a 240 litre drum sunk in for petrol storage…I was so freaked out when we first arrived by the idea of storing huge quantities of fuel at home (Most people I know, store it in their garage) surely the risk of explosion can not be worth it. But, I have to say three months in, and I’m like ‘how many drums can we fit in the garden? And should we give up a bedroom as well?
As one friend said to me the other day ‘you know its bad, and that its taking over your life, when you catch your kids playing ‘fuel queue’s’ as she did.
We have only made it to the lake once so far, but it was wonderful. Really. What a privilege to be living an hour and a half from white sand beaches with rolling waves in a climate that is probably one of the best in the world. We snorkeled, swam and marveled at the fish eagles. We took a speed boat out to a tiny island which is populated with hundreds of different species of lizard. We ate Al Fresco and lazed in the sun.
Next week we head to ‘Monkey Bay’ where we have booked a cottage with its own private beach, and over New Year we are heading north to camp on the beach at Chintechi. It’s the same beach that Rich and I stayed on with the boys back in 2007 when we hopped over from Zambia. It’s a piece of paradise.
So its not all such a challenge….