Welcome to Malawi

Sunday, July 30, 2006 | Karonga, Malawi (map)

Rural Malawi has a rugged beauty, but is better developed than Tanzania. Unpaved roads are the exception, not the rule.
Saturday morning I grabbed a big tour bus to Mbeya, the transit hub of southwest Tanzania from where I would enter Malawi. Sitting in the rear of the bus, directly over the back wheels, I felt every pebble along the rough dirt road, and soared high off my seat on several of the larger bumps.

Across the aisle, in his mother's lap a baby's cheeks jiggled as we clattered across the region's beautiful, mist-covered hills. After a few minutes of trying in vain to read, I looked back over at the baby in time to see him clumsily grab a piece of banana from his mother's hand as she looked out the window. Then, slowly and deliberately, making sure not to miss any parts, he wiped the banana across the side of his mini basketball hightop sneakers before cramming it, along with most of his fist and a decidedly satisfied smile, into his mouth.

From Mbeya, a minibus sped me toward the Songwe River Bridge, the Malawian border crossing.
After getting severely ripped off (my own fault, of course) exchanging some currency, I sat on the back of a local kid's bicycle to navigate the border crossing.

Once on the other side, I grabbed yet another minibus (I'm so sick of cramming into these things) to head for the nearest town, Karonga. In the bus several things quickly became obvious: first, that Malawians spoke far more English than the Tanzanians, that they were far more friendly to outsiders, and finally that I can't understand a word of the local language, Chichewa. Big surprise.

Another ride from an enterprising cyclist brought me to the Marina Lodge, in Karonga, a town beside Lake Malawi. At the hotel's restaurant I met Charles, a waiter and the first of many extremely amiable Malawians I have since encountered. He sat with me while I ate, chatting and watching American rap music videos on the satellite TV.

"Why do only black people in America sing?" he inquired. I tried to summarize the complex racial dynamics of America in basic English, but ultimately threw up my hands when the conversation brought us to "So, is Michael Jackson black or white?" Some things about America just defy explanation.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Andrew--
I love reading about your travels and I am so jealous--sounds like it has been a great experience--thanks for sharing it! Love--Mary Carol (your Mom's "old" friend)--P.S. Sent the link to John, Richard and Sarah too!

Dianne Fowler said...

I love experiencing your journey vicariously through your blog. I always knew you would do great things!

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