Thursday morning, I bundled into a 1987 Nissan pick-up truck with our good family friend Chrissie and her mother. Chrissie and her family have been close with Sandy’s family for almost ten years. They have been quick to adopt us and make us feel at home. Chrissie was taking her mother back to the village where she lives and offered to let me come along. Chrissie’s mother is an amazing woman. At 82 years old, she is strong and quick and managed the (extremely) bumpy ride through the country-side more gracefully than I did.
We took a nice paved road out of Blantyre and through the peaceful suburbs. After about 15 minutes of driving, the landscape became lush, mountainous, and gorgeous. Like every road in Malawi, there were people walking or biking along side. Many of the women exhibited super human strength carrying bushels of firewood, fruit, vegetables, or buckets of water on their heads.
After another twenty minutes or so, the landscape changed again. As we started passing large tea estates, I suddenly felt like I was in Tuscany except it was tea instead of vineyards. Tea fields stretched out on gentle hills as far as you could see. Long avenues were lined with tall blue gum trees. Entrances to the estates were well manicured with brightly colored flowers and bushes. The tea plants themselves were beautiful – they were a really gorgeous shade of brilliant lime green – I hope it comes out in the pictures.
It turns out that Chrissie owns several large plots of land and grows tea as part of a conglomerate. We turned off the tarmac into a large estate where she has her three parcels and onto a mud path full of rocks and ruts. One time we bounced so high that the camera sitting in my lap flew off into the floor. Another time I tried to take a picture out the window with said camera, but the truck was jumping so much, the fool-proof auto focus couldn’t zero in on anything.
When we arrived at her main piece of land, we got out (it took me a minute for my legs to adjust – dirt road legs, like sea legs) and she showed me how they harvest the leaves by snapping off the youngest two or three leaves along with the bud. The workers carry big sacks on their backs full of the blooms. The tea is then weighed and sent to the large processing center on the estate. I loved experiencing the whole process and was so appreciative of Chrissie taking me to see it all. Having spent some time in the Southern US, Chrissie knows of our propensity for tea, preferably iced and sweet.