06 May 2019 – This is an imported page from an old blog I kept during my travels to Malawi. Next month (June 2019) as part of this year’s Norwich-Dedza Partnership exchange, teachers from Malawi will be visiting the UK. So in celebration and preparation for that, I will be re-blogging the thoughts I made during my visit in 2013.
You can find an index of all the 2013 Malawi blog entries here. Zikomo!
“On the road!”
26th May 2013; Lilongwe, Malawi
Let’s play a game of ‘narrow your gaze’, if you will. Look forward through the windscreen of the bus and squint. What you will see is a very normal scene: a paved road, with impatient cars whizzing by our slow chugging minibus. Either side of the road, concrete lampposts stand tall, lining the edge like a regimented army platoon. Dancing in and out of them, on occasion, are telephone and electrical wires. This is the scene of a narrow gaze. No wonder why those who do not consider the bigger picture turn out to be less informed…
We are on the M1, which takes us from the airport to Lilongwe, and then onto Dedza. It is Malawi’s main highway, and on first glance, it seems to live up to that standard. But taking a wider view sees cyclists with overbaring loads. It sees whole flocks of people walking on its side, often carrying something. I wonder how far these people have to travel and how often they must do so. The road also offers road-side market stalls (replace ‘stall’ with ‘blanket/sheet’) and ‘market’ with ‘gatherings from the field. Right under a billboard that proclaims wealth leads to eternal happiness, are people camped out hoping for a ride or a handout from the road.
In Lilongwe there is a supermarket: a Spar. Although the size of a small supermarket it definitely lacks in variety. But, it’s the closest thing to an average shop that would be recognisable in the Western world. My shop: a few beers, a pack of 20 bottled waters, a few snacks and 6 apples = K5000 (kwacha = Malawi’s currency), which is about £10. No average Malawian can afford that on a regular basis. It is reserved for the well-off.
The roadside scene continues as we travel away from Lilongwe. But scattered amongst the stereotypical view of sandy hut villages lacking amenities and electricity are the odd barbed-wire walled protected compound. I guess these are the living quarters of Malawi’s ‘better-off’. The ‘rich’ here, it seems, aren’t particularly well off by our standards. But they can afford a car and petrol prices (I figured) that are about the same as ours. Take into account the devalued kwacha and the expensive of importing oil into a landlocked country, fuel is pretty much extortionate. They can afford mobile phones (every other shop appears to be serving the phone companies).
In contrast, the poor are VERY poor. At twilight, people were still walking the long road between settlements and it’s almost too dark to see. The villages dotted along the M1 are your classic mud-huts with straw roofs, with the odd splattering of a cement convenience store. I would guess one in every twenty houses have one single light bulb; and the rest, a fire.
As the rocky mountains of Dedza approach, I start to drift away. My long journey sees me falling into dreamland; but it is outside my window that may as well be the dream for this Western man.