Late last week, a neighbor invited us to join the Society of Malawi on an excursion to a tobacco farm near Zomba. Eager to take every opportunity to see the country and meet people, I quickly agreed. Saturday morning, Sandy had to deal with the car (more about that coming soon) so it was just me. We packed up a lunch and headed off in our neighbors’ 30-year-old land rover.
We stopped at a roadside market as we drove north out of Blantyre. Unlike my last trip out of the city, this landscape was more mountainous. Large hills or small mountains rose out of rocky green fields. After awhile, we turned off of the tarmac and onto a mud road. While not as rough as the last mud path I was on, it certainly wasn’t smooth sailing. We bounced along the way, passing small herds of goats, sheep, and random chickens. We passed small villages and fields of neatly planted crops.
Eventually we made it through the gates and pulled up at Denis’ house. Denis, I learned, is a white Malawian who offered to host the Society on a trip around his farm and Bar-B-Q afterwards. He is a good looking man, probably in his late 50’s, with a unique accent that sounds like a combination of South African and Zimbabwean. He welcomed us warmly but seemed slightly overwhelmed when he heard 50 people would be showing up.
After we were all gathered, slathered with sun screen, and ready with our hardy footwear, we headed off to learn all about this working tobacco farm. The farm had been in Denis’ family for generations and now his son is taking over. He is very proud of employing over 200 Malawians, and producing crops that contribute to Malawi’s exports.
Our first stop was at his new Macadamia grove. It turns out that Malawi is fourth in the world in Macadamia nut production (behind Australia, Hawaii, and South Africa). Planting, growing, harvesting, roasting, and packaging the nuts can be a difficult process, but at the end of the day, Malawian macadamia nuts are some of the best and most sought after in the world.
The long train of visitors wound along the path to the tobacco fields. It reminded me of a middle school field trip – it was a little cliquey as everyone stayed with people they knew. Everyone had their cameras out, snapping away and asking questions. I half expected us to be directed to the nearest food court where we each had $8 to spend. Or for teenagers who were “sort of going out” to lag behind and stealthily hold hands.
Denis was extremely knowledgeable and made tobacco growing sound pretty exciting. Having grown up in Winston Salem, North Carolina, I have an interest in the cash crop and found it all really interesting.
As we were heading back to the house, the heavens opened up and we got caught in a major thunder storm. It put a damper on our plans to have the bar-b-q, but watching a dramatic thunderstorm from the porch of an African farm was amazing.