Tag Archives: Lilongwe

Lilongwe

Lilongwe is really beautiful but a little bizarre.  It’s very green, lush, and spread out.  It’s the capital city but has no movie theater… or… get this… 24-hour hospital.  That means if you have an emergency in the middle of the night, you either wait until the morning to go to a doctor, or drive 4 hours to Blantyre..

It was a small sleepy town in the 60’s when it became the capital and the city planner laid it out in “areas.”  Interestingly, area 1 is nowhere near area 2.  Area 10 is nowhere near area 9 or area 11.  The legend is that the planner expected the areas to eventually have neighborhood names, like stony brook or monkey island.  Instead, it is a city of “areas” – like Paris’ arondisements, only not as romantic.  

It seems that about eighty percent of the city’s roads are not named – which means that when you’re meeting someone somewhere, the directions go something like: go to the big tree beside Shoprite – turn left – go about four houses – then turn right at the fence with the loud guard dog – then pass the guy selling pineapples – etc.

Because it’s not easy to get around without a car and Sandy didn’t want me to come to his work meetings (?), I’m sitting on the veranda of our lovely guest house.  I am half listening to the President commemorate Malawi’s National Anti-Corruption Day and watching the hotel guard unwillingly babysit one of the seven-year-old guests.  This child, by the way, is banging a hammer against a rock – she’s been going at it for 57 minutes so far.  I might have to break my computer over her head.

Yesterday, we tried to go to the little wildlife sanctuary in town.  It is 300 kwatcha for Malawians and 900 kwatcha for tourists.  I figure we’re somewhere in between, but they wanted to charge us 900 kwatcha since we couldn’t produce a Malawian passport.  I guarantee you that 70% of Malawians can’t produce a Malawian passport.  When we explained we live in Blantyre, they made fun of the way we pronounced the name of our neighborhood.  So, we decided not to pay the tourist price, and left.

We head back home tomorrow and I’ll be glad to get back to Blantyre, but it’s been a nice visit and a successful one for Sandy.

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The best way to travel.

Thank you for all of the great ideas for the car name.  Maybe we will go with the Red Cabernet Uncle Mike-anator.

Monday, Sandy set off for Lilongwe on a seven day trip for his work.  I survived a few days on my own in Blantyre, but by Wednesday, I decided to risk a reputation as a helicopter wife and take the coach bus up to Lilongwe.  I wasn’t apprehensive at all about traveling across Malawi all alone – I was taking a really nice inter-city bus and I heard that it was even more comfortable that most American coach buses.  Besides, I’d get on in one city, get off in the next – what was there to be anxious about?

I got to the coach office early – I can’t seem to shake my American obsession with punctuality – but being typically Malawian, the bus left an hour late. 

A typical village by the road.

The bus was very luxurious – even more so because there were only twelve people on board.  By my calculation, I had 4.67 seats to myself.  The bus attendant passed out snacks and cold drinks and as we settled in for the four hour drive, we were entertained by early-’90s music videos.  I had forgotten just how many times Celine Dion has changed her hairstyle. 

After an hour or so of driving, the attendant got on the PA system and mumbled an announcement.  The only word I understood was “police.”  The bus passed through a police barricade and pulled over to the side of the road.  While I didn’t have anything to worry about  – I wasn’t smuggling anything and I’m not (to my knowledge) wanted by the Malawian police, my heart rate was still slightly up.  We all silently disembarked.

I don’t have my passport, I realized.  I don’t have much cash for a bribe either.  I’m totally screwed.  I’m going to be left here at this police stop by the side of the road.  Oh no.  Ok – I’ll put on my metro mean face and act like this happens to me all the time.  I’ll fade into the crowd – it doesn’t matter that I’m the only mzungu anywhere around. 

By the time all of these ridiculous thoughts had passed through my head, we were casually waved back on board.  That was it – just off and then right back on.  I was pretty proud of myself for keeping my cool – outwardly anyway – or maybe I’m totally kidding myself.

So, we were on our way again, only this time, no more music videos.  Instead, we watched the American TV show Prison Break… dubbed in French… with Japanese subtitles.  I kid you not.  A whole two hours where NOBODY could understand a single word.

The scenery was breathtaking.  I muted my camera and took pictures out the window during the drive.  It was so pretty that I somehow had to limit myself – now, is this mountain just beautiful, or is it really spectacular?  I only took ‘spectacular’ pictures and still ended up with 91 photos in the four hour trip. A few are posted here but none of them do it justice.

With about one more hour to Lilongwe, we pulled to a stop at a second police barricade.  This time, we didn’t have to disembark.  Instead, the bus BROKE DOWN.  Right there on the side of the road. 

Our driver put it in neutral and we rolled past the barricade and to a stop beside some grazing cows.  The men on the bus all got off and stood around the engine with their hands on their hips.  Thirty minutes passed – it would be dark soon and there was no sign that the bus was feeling any better.  One woman passenger abandoned us by flagging down another ride.

Talk about organic.

I got down and one point, just to see if my car-fixing expertise would be of any use (please note, they are limited to “turn it off and turn it back on” and are remarkably similar to my computer-fixing skills).  Instead of being helpful, I terrified a small child who had probably never seen a white person before.  She screamed at the top of her lungs and didn’t stop until I got back on the bus.

Setting Sun

Almost an hour later, our driver poured enough water in the radiator for the bus to slowly crank up after several shudders.  We were off.  An hour later (and two hours after our scheduled arrival) we made it to Lilongwe.

I had spoken to Sandy and he said he would meet me at the bus’ last stop, the Pacific Hotel.  We pulled into the Coach office and everyone got off.  Supposing this to be the only stop, I got down too.  I was mobbed by aggressive taxi drivers, but I again put on my metro mean face and they left me alone.  I asked our bus attendant if the bus makes any other stops.  When I told her where I wanted to go, she said to get back on the bus.  So there I was, the only one sitting on the bus.  The driver got in and started it up.  Sitting right behind him, I said “Thank you!”  He spun around, not realizing I was there.  He didn’t speak English, but I kept saying the name of the hotel.  He nodded and turned around to drive.  We left the parking lot, me in my privately chauffeured coach bus, not sure at all that we were going to the right place. 

After fifteen minutes, we pulled up to the hotel where Sandy was waiting.  After all this, I have to say that having a 56-seat coach bus all to oneself is definitely the way to travel.

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Drive from Lilongwe to Blantyre

Here are a few pictures from our five hour drive south.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  It was: “wake-up, you’re in Africa!”  So we stayed awake, until dark, at least.  We nodded off for the rest of the trip.  I would open my eyes every once and a while to see us barreling down a narrow two-lane road, narrowly passing people walking and biking on the left and huge trucks on the right.  I thought to myself “huh, silly to be scared of the plane when this road is terrifying” and fell back asleep.  It felt like the night bus on Harry Potter.

The Director of Sandy’s new office welcomed us at his home, knowing we might be too tired to cook ourselves dinner.  He offered us a wonderful dinner and champagne to celebrate.  As we’d been traveling for about 33 hours, I’m sure our attempts at conversation less than spectacular, but he was kind and understanding.  Knowing none of our bags made it and that we were not in a state to sit around and talk, he sent us home with clothes, toiletries, and a bottle of red wine – for which I will always be in his debt.

We got to our new home, took cold showers (as we couldn’t find the hot water heater switch) slathered on the insect repellent and fell into bed.

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