Now settled into Blantyre and oriented to the sounds, smells and warmth (in every sense of the word) of this beautiful place, John, Lily and I are having a fantastic time. Lily and I had tailors make skirts and “happy pants” for us out of the fabric we bought at the market. Our tailors, who sit on the sidewalk with treadle machines, gave us a cursory measure and asked a few questions about what we wanted (“loose pants?”) and 24 hours later we picked up our perfectly made articles.
Living here gives new meaning to “The Shop at Home Network” — a Malawian lady came by the first morning with a basket full of fresh produce for Kate to select her day’s items. The basket was probably 4 feet wide by 3 feet wide by 3 feet deep of woven reeds. After Kate had bought bananas, the Malawian lady replaced all the produce, covered it in a sheet of plastic and hefted the basket onto her head, turned, and walked easily down the steep, small steps from Sandy and Kate’s apartment. I know that basket weighed 35 pounds. Three more artists have come by to show us jewelry, carvings, boxes and paintings. Their local “nursery” fellow came by yesterday to consult with Kate about her “garden” which is four pots on the front porch. He advised her about her herbs and promised to come by in a few weeks with some more specimens he thinks she will like to add to her garden.
Yesterday we headed southeast to Mt. Mulanje. Sandy took “the long road” which led us through miles of tea plantations. The tea grows year-round to a height of about three feet. The folks who pick the tea take only a few tender leaves from each bush. They gather the tea into conical straw baskets and then congregate under a makeshift cover — canvas held up by four poles–to have the tea weighed.
Sandy’s driving is nothing short of amazing and I, seated in the backseat behind John, have only had to close my eyes three or four times. People walk down both sides of the two-lane highway , ride bikes down both sides of the highway, herd cattle and goats down both sides of the highway — while motorized traffic is ALSO going down both sides of the highway. Now when I say “ride bikes” that is not quite descriptive enough: there are people on bikes, yes, but there are also people on bikes with loads of straw mats or harvested greens, or bags of charcoal tied to the back of the bike. These loads are often five or six feet wide! My FAVORITE, however, was the two men who road by on bikes with large PIGS tied to plywood boards mounted behind their seats! The pigs were covered with green leaves to protect them from chaffing by the ropes and the sun. One was complacent but one was squealing as they went by! Goats are also transported in the same way!
As we neared Mt. Mulanje, the weather closed in and we were able to see only the eastern rise of what looked to be a very high mountain. We stopped at a pizzeria about three miles from where Sandy lived when he came to Malawi the summer of 2005. As many of the tea plantations were originally owned by Italians, the existence of such a place did not seem so mysterious. The building was a former Colonial administration building, really lovely. There were four other azungu in the restaurant — folks there to climb the 10,000 foot mountain–but the weather made that impossible. As we enjoyed DELICIOUS pizza, we were entertained by a tremendous storm with lots of cloud to ground lightening and torrential rain. We were finally forced into the building proper, off the covered veranda, to stay dry.
The people of Malawi generally do not climb the mountain, the top of which is called “Sapitwa” which means “if you come here you will disappear” — clearly the only reason this intrepid mountaineer did not attempt the summit. Well, there were the rain and cloud cover too. . .
More to come about our safari adventure…