Tag Archives: Blantyre

An Insider’s Guide to Blantyre, Malawi

Blantyre – An Expat’s Guide to the City

I love our adopted city of Blantyre – it’s a beautiful, green city full of charm and history and is the perfect size.  Before moving here, I couldn’t find much on life here and how to settle in, so as we prepare to leave, I thought it might be helpful to provide a few notes for anyone lucky enough to come live here.

Please keep in mind that (1) I’m no expert – just enthusiastic and (2) as in most developing countries, things change quickly – roads appear or disappear, restaurants open and close, bars become en vogue or desolate, shops and lodges close down or open.  The problem with writing a blog post like this is that it will probably be out of date by the time it’s published!

So this post will probably bore 98% of you, but I hope it’s helpful to someone!

Facts about Blantyre:

Blantyre is one of the oldest cities in East and Southern Africa.  Predating Harare, Nairobi, and Johannesburg, the city was first established by Scottish Missionaries following David Livingstone’s trail blazing.  In fact, Blantyre is named after Blantyre, Scotland, Livingstone’s birthplace.  Soon after, the Missionaries started building the Church of St. Michael and All Angels (a magnificent brick cathedral constructed without an engineer or architect), the African Lakes Corporation established a trading post in the city, and built Malawi’s oldest building, the Mandala House.  Now a cafe, gallery, and archival library, the two story house has beautiful wrap-around porches, large windows, and is surrounded by massive trees.  Legend has it that when it was first built, people who had never seen a two story structure came from miles away to see the “house on top of a house.”

Down on Victoria Avenue, one of the main streets in town, are the original colonial administrative buildings.  While they are not in the best shape, they were built in the quintessential colonial style with thick brick walls and green corrugated tin roofs.

While Blantyre and Limbe are close together, Limbe has a distinct commercial feel, with a tightly packed ‘downtown’ area full of small shops and mosques.  Blantyre’s commercial district feels more laid back.

Blantyre is surrounded by three mountains, Ndirande, Mchiru, and Soche.  In addition to being beautiful, they are also helpful focal points when learning your way around town.  The streets of Blantyre feel like they were laid out by a hyper-active rabbit.  Every year, there is a three-peaks challenge, where fabulously fit people get up really early and climb each peak in one day.

I’m not sure the population – Blantyre was the biggest city in Malawi until two years ago and now Lilongwe has narrowly overtaken it.  While the townships surrounding the town are high density, the actual city itself feels quite manageable and intimate.  There is a constant influx of expats (mostly British, although there are also always Canadians, Dutch, Irish, and a few Americans scattered in as well).  The major hospitals, Queen Elizabeth (or Queens) and Beit Cure welcome expat doctors and while there aren’t as many NGO’s as before (they’ve all moved to be closer to the donors in Lilongwe) there are still a few expat NGO workers.

Blantyre has several neighborhoods and when people ask where you stay, they are generally asking which neighborhood you live in.  Sunnyside is a beautiful, posh neighborhood on the south west side of town, full of large old houses with sprawling gardens.  Mandala, more in the center of town, is also quite posh, although I hear they have more power cuts than in Sunnyside.  We live on the edge of Nyambadwe, on the north side of town, which is also famous for powercuts, but being on the same line as the ex-President’s brother’s house has made things easy on us.  Namiwawa is east of the city center and has some lovely houses, which are generally smaller than Sunnyside.  Kabula is one of the older neighborhoods and has some beautiful houses – and two of Blantyre’s best restaurants.  All of these neighborhoods are safe, but most homes are surrounded by large brick walls, sturdy gates, and have guards.

Most of the year, the weather in Blantyre is perfect – not to hot, not too cold.  Even in the rainy season, it rains for a few hours and then the sparkling sun is back.  October and November, however, can be torture.  I’ve never been so hot as I was last November.  On the flip side, June and July can be really cold – probably not cold to people coming from the UK, but cold to me.  I tell people to bring warm clothes because I was shocked my first June.  I had packed all light clothes, because hey, I was going to Africa.  I also thought I’d naturally loose lots of weight and be perfectly tan – oh well.

Moving to Blantyre

You must get on Carole Vardell’s email list – it’s the main source of information in Blantyre.  In an old fashioned way, Blantyre is a word-of-mouth town.  She sends out ads for homes for rent, cars for sale, deals on vacations, and a weekly summary of events.  Send her an email and she will add you to her list.  (varndell@broadbandmw.com)

The Blantyre Chat Google Group is also a great resource – people often put up ads for cars, household goods, etc.

Tiyeni is a website with classified ads that should be really helpful once they get all the quirks worked out.

There is a Facebook group: BTXP+ with lots of good information – and a great place to ask questions of people in the know.

Once here, pick up a copy of The Eye, which is full of interesting articles, phone numbers, and important local information.

What to Bring

Again, bring a sweater if you’re going to be here in the winter months – it does get cold!

Also, I have a Kindle, which has been a lifesaver – books here are hard to find and expensive but with a kindle I can download new books really easily.

You can buy most toiletries here – they just tend to be expensive, so I would stock up on sunscreen!

Buying a Car

Cars in Africa are amazingly resilient.  The most popular Expat Model is a Rav-4.  We had one that was 18 years old and loved it.  We also had a bigger car, an Isuzu that was also 18 years old, but a tank – second hand cars are actually a great investment because they don’t really depreciate here.  We sold both for about what we bought them for.

It’s important to have a trusted mechanic check out the car before you purchase.  We’ve had some run ins with terrible mechanics, but are very loyal to our current one.  If you’re ever in a position where you need a good one, let me know and I’ll give you his information.

Until you get a car, or if you decide not to get a car, minibuses are the common form of public transportation.  Exciting, interesting, a cultural experience, yes, yes, yes, but make sure, if you can, that the driver is not drunk before you get in.

Going Shopping

Furniture

New furniture in Blantyre is expensive.  The best bet is to look for home sales or to buy locally made furniture.  There is great cane and wood furniture for sale around town – sometimes just on the side of the road.  We had great luck with Mr. White, who made us a beautiful cane table and chairs.  If you’re going to be here for a long time, or are moving back with a container, the store Habitat often has gorgeous wooden furniture – it’s expensive, but really beautiful.

Household Items

It’s tempting to stock-up at Game or Shoprite, but you can get much better deals at Sana or some of the smaller Chinese shops.

Groceries

There are three places in Blantyre that really cater to expats: Shoprite, Chipiku, and Saver’s Choice.  I’m ignoring Game (the mega-South African chain that’s actually owned by Walmart) because it’s SO incredibly expensive that no one really shops there and I’m sure it will go out of business soon.

Shoprite: Also a mega South African chain, but it’s got so many of the things you crave (taco shells, spaghetti sauce, cream cheese, etc.)  It’s not a pleasant shopping experience, as it’s often crowded, but you’re sure to see someone you know.  It’s expensive (butter is now something like 12$) but worth it when you want to cook something special.

Chipiku:  a Malawi chain that is smaller than Shoprite, but often cheaper and much more pleasant to shop in – they have lots of stuff for expats (pasta, chips ahoy cookies, snickers bars, etc) but not quite the range that Shoprite has.

Saver’s Choice: on the road to Limbe, it’s impossible to get to, but it’s worth a visit. They often have really hard to find things like Thai curries, chocolate instant coffee mixes, and cranberry sauce.  Their baked goods are amazing and they often have the best mozzarella cheese.

Fresh Produce

The Blantyre market is a great place for fresh produce.  There are stalls full of colorful fruit, vegetables, and grains.  It is daunting, however, as you park your car and it is immediately surrounded by 15 boys wanting the job of either guarding your car while you shop, or providing shopping bags and carrying your groceries.  My tactic is usually to try and pick the same guy to help with groceries and the car.  I know it sounds pretentious to have someone follow you around carrying things for you, but it is providing an income – however small.

The Limbe produce market is even better.  It’s a massive covered building that feels clean and bright.  The prices are usually lower than Blantyre and the selection is better.  It’s just kind of a pain to get out there.

Just know that as a mzungu, you’re going to pay a bit more than Malawians at the market.

If you need fresh vegetables but can’t be bothered with the hassle of the market, there is a small store run by local farmers.  The selection is limited and the prices are higher, but it’s much less fuss.  The store is in the Tea Planter’s Association parking lot in Kidney Crescent.

Meat

You can tell if it’s a good day to buy meat at Shoprite based on the smell of the meat section.  Often it’s fine, but there are days when it’s best to just stay away.  I also buy meat at Superior Halal, on the highway b/w Blantyre and Shoprite or Meat Connection – across from Hotel Victoria – while it’s all frozen, the quality is excellent.  They also sometimes have nice splurges like frozen calamari.

Wine

Shopping for wine at Shoprite or Game can give you a heart attack – the prices are shocking.  But luckily, there are a few local places with better selection and much more reasonable prices.  Chipiku has a good alcohol section near their grocery store.  My favorite, though, is ASAP.  Located in a warehouse on Kidney Crescent, it usually has pretty good stock – they will also call you if they get a new shipment in.  It’s located behind Tiyeni and across from Blue Elephant.

Clothes

Personally, I love to go market shopping for second hand clothes.  All those clothes you donate to GoodWill or Oxfam end up here, and after a good wash, they are almost like new!  I’ve found some amazing dresses – Zara, Banana Republic, J Crew, etc.  Limbe is better than Blantyre and again, you have to be patient, but it can be really fun and really cheap.  The market is also the perfect place to find costumes.

I really regret not having more clothes made.  Just as I’m leaving, I’ve found the most amazing seamstress named Clara – I have her information if anyone needs it – she’s so talented, her English is perfect, and her prices are amazing.

Curios and Decorative Items

The Curio market in town is well-stocked, but a nightmare.  It’s generally pretty empty, so when someone comes up to shop, all the vendors surround them.  It can be stressful.  You can get great deals there if you’re willing to be firm and to bargain well.  The vendors are pretty adept at sizing you up – have you been here awhile or are you fresh off the boat.  A general rule of thumb is that with curios, you should pay 1/3 of the original asking price.  For me, though, I try and figure out what something is worth to me and as long as I’m happy and the vendor is happy, everyone wins.

The Lilongwe curio market is better than Blantyre – it’s more spread out and I think they hassle you less.

The BEST place to shop for curios is on the Zomba road in between Zomba and Liwonde.  At the bottom of the big hill (going towards Liwonde) there is a row of shed son the right, mostly selling Chief Chairs.  The chairs are Gorgeous – beautifully and intricately carved.  Even if you’re the only one there, the vendors don’t pressure you – they let you look and decide on your own.  The prices are incredible.  We bought several large chief chairs for 3500 MK when in town it would be 13,500.

If you visit the lake, often vendors will come to the lodge or cottage where you’re staying – I like shopping this way too – it’s often low stress and cheaper prices.

While Malawi is known for its beautiful wooden carvings, the country also has a devastating deforestation issue – so if you’re like me, you’ll wrestle between trying to provide some income for the carvers and vendors and wanting to protect the natural resources.  I don’t really have an answer.

La Caverna

Situated in the first floor of Mandala House, the gallery has a beautiful selection of artwork, carvings, books, textiles, and jewelry.  Their prices are much higher than the market, but it’s a pleasant place to shop and the quality of art is always high.

Habitat

A little more jumbled than La Caverna, Habitat also has some beautiful things.  The prices are pretty good and the selection is more varied than La Caverna.

Central Africana

A nice, but expensive bookstore.  A great place to find old maps or prints, and it has an amazing collection of antique books pertaining to Africa.

Kwa Haraba

Locally owned, it’s located on Glyn Jones across from Metro.  It’s a small shop and a little crowded with items, but the owner’s mission is to promote and preserve Malawian cultural heritage.  It has a great selection of artwork and carvings and has some unique items (like a hand painted sign illustrating the Chichewa word Umandigiligisha – or ‘you tickle me silly.’)

Ishq

Ishq should really be its own category – it’s very upscale and expensive, but has some lovely things.  Located next to Wilderness Safaris in Ryalls, it has nice imports (such as paper and leather goods from Italy) but I really go there for the jewelry.

Lambats

Located on Haile Salassie, this store has almost everything you need in terms of textiles.  You can buy kikois, zitenje, and fabric for making clothes.  They also copy keys.

Sports

There are SO many things to do if you’re sporty.  I remember meeting the legendary Maggie O’Toole when I first arrived and was so excited “do you bike? mountain bike? hike? play tennis? play squash? run up mountains? run on flat surfaces for miles and miles? play volleyball? do aerobics? play golf?”  I had to hem and ha and say that no, I really don’t do any of that, but the point was that all of that is on offer in Blantyre.

The Blantyre Sports Club

An old school colonial institution, it has a nice golf course but a tendency to be snooty.  If you’re looking for a place to play sports and exercise, the College of Medicine sports complex is nicer (especially the squash courts) and cheaper.

The Mountain Club of Malawi

A great way to meet people, the club hosts events, socials, and organizes regular trips up Mt. Mulanje (and other mountains too!)

Other

Check Carole Varndell’s weekly email updates for more sporty activities – there is a golf tournament every Wednesday, Circuit training Tuesday/Thursday, Zumba classes, volleyball, etc.

Vocabulary

Here are some words that I was unfamiliar with that are now firmly imbedded in my lexicon:

Braii – Africaans word for bar-b-q

Khonde – Africaans word for porch

Iwe – Chichewa for ‘you’ but is used informally for children

Mzungu/Azungu (Sg and pl) – word used for white person

Green – A Carlsberg beer

Bo – an informal way of saying ‘hi how are you’ – great for speaking with little kids

Sharpe – (pronounced shap) is usually said with a thumbs up – it can mean great, yes, thanks, you look amazing, you’re snazzily dressed, or I’ve run out of the four Chichewa words I know.

Bodza – (pronounced bode-za) Chichewa for ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ – kind of like accusing the speaker of exaggerating (especially handy if you’re in the market and they quote an absurd price)

Most of all, Enjoy your new Home!  Hope you love it as much as we did!

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Out of Africa

We can’t really believe that we’re back in the US and have left Malawi for good (or at least for now!).  We had a whirlwind last few weeks, packing, saying goodbyes, and cleaning out the apartment.  The most stressful moment was realizing that the bags that we’d packed and weighed so carefully had to be 23 kg each, not 30kg.  Luckily Sandy stayed calm and got everything under control.

The goodbyes were the most difficult.  It was so hard to hug goodbye Cathy and Bertha and thank them for all of their hard work and care over the past two years.   There was a nice goodbye event for Sandy at work, where they gave him parting gifts and spoke about what a difference he had made.  Sandy even got a little teary.  Our cat was adopted by a sweet neighbor, so we were confident that we left her in a good home.  We had goodbye drinks at Doogles with friends, but are sure that we’ll see them all again.  And we’re sure we’ll come back to Malawi.

Our drive from Blantyre to Lilongwe was uneventful, except for the police speed traps.  The driver got a ticket in the first trap (with one of the six speed cameras in the country).  The second time he got pulled over, outside Dedza, the policeman swaggered up to the car and told the driver that he’d been speeding – he’d been going 94 km per hour.  The driver got out of the car and went to negotiate with the policeman.  Fifteen minutes later, he got back and we asked what had happened.  Turns out, the police didn’t have a camera!  How hilarious is that?  They just picked a random number that he was ‘speeding’ and then tried to get him to pay!

Anyway, got to the airport, got on the plane (with all our bags!), made it to the DRC (with a team of soccer champions who got off the plane with great fanfare), made it to Addis, then got lucky with an extra seat between us on the long flight from Addis to DC.  There was a terrible movie selection, though, except for The Sound of Music, which I’ve discovered is not a good plane movie because one can’t (or shouldn’t) sing along.

As usual, we have struggled a bit to get back into the swing of life in America – they drive on the wrong side of the road here!  We can go to the grocery store and buy any kind of cheese we want!  How do I work my new Smartphone?  What do you mean there’s an app for that?

Our Southern accents are coming back, but we’re still using British/Malawisms.  Sprinkles will now always be 100’s and 1000’s, overalls are now dungarees, soccer is football, and for a while, french fries will be chips.

As I reflect on our time in Malawi, we feel so fortunate to have had this experience.  I’ve grown as a person, matured, and become more confident.  We’ve made lifelong friends, learned to keep life’s real priorities in perspective, and had two and a half amazing years.

It feels like forever since I was that recently-arrived girl thinking that the minibuses were honking just to be friendly.  I won’t really miss minibus drivers.  Nor will I miss the snakes in our apartment (three in 2.5 years!  and we lived on the second floor!).  Or the cheap light bulbs that fall to the floor and shatter every time there’s a power surge, or the water cuts, or the fuel queues.  I won’t miss the s…l…o…w internet and the lack of communication with friends and family, or the potholes, or the high pitched hum of mosquitoes that have snuck into your net and hover around your ears in the middle of the night.

But more importantly, there are certain things we will really miss:

The people

The babies and team at Open Arms

The calm and relaxation at the tea estates

The magnificent Lake Malawi

Real produce in vibrant markets

Our cars

The mountains and plateaus

Safaris

Travel to Mozambique, Zanzibar, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

Our adopted hometown

The Rains

The Dry Season

Dinner parties (Including Malawi Thanksgivings!)

Switching our L’s and R’s (exactry!)

Market shopping

The Coffee

The adventure of everyday life

I just wanted to thank all of you for your support, readership, and especially your comments.  This blog started as a way to keep in touch with family, but I am so glad we stuck with it – it’s so fun to go back and read posts from the past.

This is my last post, except for an upcoming Insider’s Guide to Blantyre – it might be helpful for people moving to Malawi.

We’re beginning a new chapter in Columbia, SC, as Sandy starts his International MBA program and we have a baby boy on the way.  We’re convinced we’ll end up calling him Iwe!

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Held Hostage with no Facebook or YouTube

I know I spend a lot of time talking about the weather on this blog, but the rains are finally here!  We think!

We had one day of rain last week and are now in the middle of a beautiful thunderstorm that has gone a long way in cooling things down.  Afternoon thunderstorms are great.. but afternoon thunderstorms in Malawi are spectacular…

So while I listen to big fat rain drops spilling from the sky outside, the rustling of leaves and the soft roll of thunder, I can tell you about how I spent last Friday.

The NGO that I work for does wonderful, creative development work.  My colleagues are the best and brightest in Malawi and I love my job.

As wonderful as the organization is, it has not been immune to the economic downturn facing most of the world these days and as contracts end, people are being let go.  This, combined with confusing new legislation about pension reform, has created a messy environment for Human Resources.  Anyway, the employees whose contracts ended were frustrated by the lack of clarity on their severance pay and management was frustrated by conflicting information from lawyers, bankers, and bureaucrats.  It left the former employees and management at a standstill.

Friday, the former employees decided enough was enough.  After five months of back and forth, it was time to force a decision.  So about eight of them came to the office compound and locked the massive gates that surround the building.  As security is such an issue here, the gates, massive brick wall and electric fence around the property are pretty impenetrable, meaning we were trapped inside.

Their next step was to cut off all the power.  No power, no generator, no computers, no internet, no fans –  in this heat!  Then they basically staged a sit-in in the Executive Director’s office.

Most of us were just really stunned – surprised that the frustration had reached the level of hostage taking.  I think I was more unnerved than most as so often and so sadly, locked doors and instability can lead to violence.  Here in Malawi though, the worst they did was to deprive us of internet (no Facebook or YouTube – for hours!).

After several hours, a colleague got frustrated enough to jump in his pickup truck and ram the massive locked gates.  He reversed and backed into them about 6-8 times before they broke open.  His truck and another car got out before the disgruntled employees relocked the gates.  I wasn’t quick enough.

Taking pity on me, the gardener led me through the wild wilderness that is the property’s second lot and had me shimmy under the now defunct electric fence (they’d cut the power to that too) and I made my escape.

A few other people also escaped that way.  Everyone else, though, especially those who had cars trapped in the parking lot, were stuck there until late in the evening.  My boss called me that night when they finally reached an agreement and were released.  She was so tired and hot, but mostly just hungry.

So, you have to really admire everyone in this scenario – the management was patient and found a solution without calling the police; the disgruntled former employees felt they had been patient enough and finally got attention without violence.  And I have a good story to take home with me, of being briefly held hostage in Malawi.  Of course, as I get older, the story will definitely get more dramatic… “and then, after surviving for hours by eating mangos from the garden, I had to MacGyver a tiny explosion as a diversion….”

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Top 10 Ways to Survive the Record-Breaking Heat

I am NOT going to complain about the heat.  Instead of complaining about 100+ degree temperatures and  a total lack of air conditioning, I’ve made a list of ways to have fun in this pre-rainy season oven we call Blantyre:

  1. Joke about how not hot it is.  Ex. “good thing we have a 4X4 car cause it looks like the snow might really come down this weekend!”  Seriously, this joke never gets old.   Everyone thinks it’s funny.
  1. Drink a chocolate bar straight from the wrapper – because it’s become a melted liquid mass of deliciousness.  Liquid Snickers is my favorite
  1. Hang your head out of the window when driving, like a dog, because the air conditioning in your car is broken.  It doesn’t look weird – promise – but be warned, according to official police documents you can technically be fined for having body parts outside of a moving vehicle.
  1. Line up at the bank (where they DO have air conditioning!).  A typical line will give you one hour of air con.  If you allow people to step ahead of you, you could potentially buy yourself two solid hours.  The downsides are that you have to stand the whole time and there are only so many ways to entertain yourself while standing in line at a bank.  I like to spend my time planning hypothetical robberies.
  1. Wait in a fuel queue!  Trust me, the one thing more frustrating than the weather is waiting for petrol/diesel when there are 79 cars, 34 trucks, 11 buses, and 2.3 million jerry cans in front of you.  It will definitely take your mind off the heat.
  1. Pretend that your towels are warm because you’re staying in a fancy hotel with a towel warmer,  instead of the fact that it’s so hot, the towels are absorbing and retaining the heat.  You can also have fun with hot sticky deodorant.  Pretend it’s an amazing new spa treatment.
  1. Go fan shopping.  It’s become a bit of a hobby for me – I now know the best hardware stores on Haile Selassie Blvd for fans, the best models, and that one should never, ever buy a fan from Game.  I don’t care how desperate you are.
  1. Bluff your way into swimming at the local high school’s pool.  Yeah, you’re totally a teacher, if anyone asks.
  1. Go to a movie at the air conditioned cinema – I’m not even going to tell you what I went to see last weekend, but I will admit that Selena Gomez was starring and I brought up the average age of movie viewers by about 12 years.  Ok, 17 years.
  1. Drive into town and rent a room at a hotel with air conditioning and drink gin and tonics – that’s what they did in The Great Gatsby, right?  Oh wait!  There’s a tonic shortage.  Guess we’ll just have to drink beer til it runs out too!

So don’t feel too sorry for us – the rains will come soon and in the meantime, we have plenty of liquid chocolate and the challenge of finding new mixers for gin.

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Chibuku Shake Shake

Scary Rumors flying around Blantyre:

  • There will be a massive shortage of Carlsberg beer (greens as they’re called here) because they are having trouble importing the bottle tops.
  • They are going to stop making Malawi Gin because they are having trouble importing the powder that they use to make it.
  • Malawi Gin is made from a powder.  (what?!? seriously?)
  • We are all going to have to acquire a taste for Chibuku Shake Shake since it will be the only thing left to drink.

Many would argue that chibuku, a popular traditional African beer, doesn’t have a very nice taste.  Some say it tastes like yeast, or dirt, baby throw up or sour milk, with the consistency of weak porridge.  They say you get the added bonus of little pieces of silt in your teeth.

And they would be right.

But Chibuku is so much more than that.  It is a cultural phenomenon.  Made from sorghum or maize, the recipe has been around for centuries and was formalized by a Zambian in the 1950’s.  The company that makes Chibuku is now owned by SAB Miller.  It’s cheaper than bottled beer (about 75 kwacha or $0.40), and for some, could constitute a whole meal.  Lots of people will just call it ‘shake shake’. (The liquid and solid separate while sitting on shelves, so it’s necessary to shake the carton thoroughly before drinking – ewww.)

The great (or bizarre) thing about chibuku is that it has very little alcohol content, but continues to ferment while on the shelf – or in one’s stomach.  So you could drink chibuku …  and then be drunk three hours later.

Chibuku is sold in lovely blue, red, and white cartons and there is an understood etiquette associated with drinking from them.  If you open only one side, like a milk carton, then you are showing that you intend to drink the carton alone.  If you grab your panga  knife and chop off the top, you intend to share the carton and pass it around to everyone.

Chibuku is the good stuff – it’s made in a warehouse (just next to Sandy’s office, actually).  But in the villages, people often make their own maize brews.  You can see people selling it in recycled water bottles – it’s thick oatmeal consistency baking in the sun.

I remember a few months ago being in a small village with a friend.  We pulled over the car when he spotted his grand-mother and her sister walking down the road.  They were elderly and friendly and were happy to see their relation visit from the big city.  He asked them where they were headed.  They were off, they told him, in search of local beer.  Drinking a local chibuku was going to be their day’s activity.  I could easily see my grandmother and her sister doing the same.  After all, as my often grandmother says, “it’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Because chibuku is an important aspect to daily life in Malawi, I felt the need to try it.  A few months ago, a large group of us gathered round and passed the chibuku carton.  We stood in a circle and it was like some horrible hazing experience.

As I said before, it tastes like sour milk, with the consistency of weak porridge, and you get little flecks of dirt (?) stuck in your teeth.  But strangely, as you pass the carton, you slowly start to get used to it.  Personally, I preferred the slightly less expensive version – Napolo (70 kwacha as opposed to 75 – I’m a cheap date).

Now I’m not saying that I would order chibuku in a restaurant (I’d love to see a waiter’s face if I did – “would you like the wine list?” “oh no, I’ll just have a carton of chibuku – could you put that in an ice bucket for us?” but, should the rumors be true and we’re left with no carlsberg or gin, we might be shake shaking for the next few months….

You know you want some.

See, I really did try it

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The trek into town and drama that ensued..

Saturday we felt like getting some exercise and exploring Blantyre.  Instead of asking a driver to come and get us, we decided to do the 45 minute walk into Blantyre city center. Although most of the walk was downhill, it was not an easy stroll.  Not only was it like hiking, watching out for large rocks and holes, but  it was in the 80’s and more humid than most days here.

The city center was pretty busy, but it felt very safe.  Everyone was friendly; one young man shouted to us “Welcome!  Feel at home here!”

We decided to stop at the Mt. Soche Hotel, one of the nicest hotels in the region, for a drink.  The hotel has a patio overlooking beautifully sculpted gardens with the mountains in the background.  It was great to relax in the shade after a tiring walk into town.  Sandy had a fanta orange, and I tried the “fanta passion,” a popular but a very sweet drink in Malawi.    I probably should have just gone for a beer.

We walked around town for another hour or so and decided to head back home.  We started up the main hill, along the busy road.  I don’t know how to describe what happened, except to say that I “fell out.”  I don’t know if it was the lack of lunch, the heat, the sweet fanta, the medicine I’d taken in the morning or what, but I felt so poorly that I literally couldn’t walk another step.  I had to sit down right there beside the road.  People passed us, staring; Sandy started to get worried and encouraged me to walk the 100 yards to the bus lot where we might get a ride home.  I felt so awful, I couldn’t even make it that far.

A police man, sitting in a minivan that was pulled over on the road beside  us, called Sandy over.  He was very nice and after asking how we enjoyed Blantyre, said “is the lady sick?”  Sandy explained, and this kind policeman, said he would go check with his boss in the police truck nearby  to see if he could give us a ride home.  His boss agreed and they loaded us up into the back of the truck.  I didn’t care that all of the people on the street were looking at us confused.  I have never been so appreciative; they took us all to way to our apartment.   Our neighbor, surprised by our police escort, offered to take me to the hospital if needed.

Sandy opened the door to our apartment and I just flopped down on the floor in the kitchen.  After being a little sick at home, drinking some water and a cold towel on my head, I ended up being fine.  This morning, I feel great, but I know, that without those generous policemen, I would still be sitting there on the side of the road.

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