25 December, 2006

It's a Long Way to Lilongwe. 11,166miles

Getting into Malawi was easy and cost nothing at all. The first country to have done so since Tunisia! As I rode down the excellent road into Malawi there was a palpable difference in attitude towards me and the bike. No-one shouted anything, and certainly not ‘mzungu’. Few even took much notice as I went by. Children responded to my waves just by waving cheerfully back. Amazing what a simple line on a map can do!

Malawi is stunningly pretty. With the lake on my left I rode through lush greenery all around. The road was good and nobody bothered with me at all. It went up into more greenery and I overtook first a little moped and then a bus. In a 160mile ride these were all I overtook and nothing overtook me. The roads were less busy with pedestrians and the whole place had a far more relaxed feel. There were checkpoints but the police just waved me through, much more interested in trucks and overloaded mini-buses. A wooden bridge looked a wee bit suspect and I slowed down to assess the situation. The front wheel flew into the air as I smacked into an unmarked, unpainted speed bump, the front tyre squealing like an aeroplane’s as it comes into land. Very clever idea putting the bridge there to distract you from the speed bump, otherwise you’d never get the fullest benefit of its shock! I crossed carefully, sounding like a train as the planks creaked and slapped underneath the bike. I was more scared of all the nails that had only been half-hammered in! But they were avoided and soon I was in Mzuzu, Malawi’s third city. Tiny, and no traffic, I easily found the fabulous Flame Tree Inn and set up my tent.

They were having a bit of a girls’ night there and so there was lots of singing and much hilarity into the night. I listened to the BBC on the wireless and to my new iPod in the tent. Very relaxing. I decided to have a day there since the place was so welcoming and friendly. I had been riding for six days and usually need a break after five. The town was quiet the next day. Very little traffic. Almost like when I was little. Cars weren’t exactly a rarity back then, but we took more notice of them, clearing ourselves off the road to let them pass. Not like today’s near constant procession of traffic keeping us permanently on the pavement. I had a relaxing stroll around town and eventually went into a tiny wee barber’s hut. I was sure I’d pointed at another picture but I was given a different, very severe haircut instead. Less to gather dirt and cause sweat so no hassle.

That evening was spent in the interesting company of Bruce (a US Vietnam draft-dodger who had found his way to Norway, settling there) and his wife Karin who, although Norwegian, had grown up in Pakistan with her diplomat parents, and so had spent less time in Norway than her immigrant husband! They were volunteer lecturers at the new University of Livingstonia. They were a lovely couple and we laughed and chatted way past all of our bedtimes, putting the world right.

The run down to Lilongwe was as pretty and peaceful as before. I went to the Mabuya (formerly known as Kiboko) Camp on the outskirts of town. This place was full of overlanders and crazy, but very funny, people! Later that evening four more ‘chicken coops’ came in full of youthful Antipodeans shouting very loudly at one another. There were enough independent travellers to entertain one another separately from the 'chickens', whose camaraderie was difficult to penetrate.

My school, Denend Primary in Cardenden, Fife, is beginning to create links with a school in Dedza via Miss Mackay, a teacher from Lochgelly High School who encouraged the children in my class to write letters to those in Dedza. She visited the school here in the summer and gained a better understanding of what could be done to help out. The school is about 50miles south of here and so I made my way there next day, hoping to find it. I found the famous Dedza Pottery and Coffee Shop and had the most delicious toastie. But I couldn’t find anyone who knew about the school or its headmaster. Just as it was getting too late, I heard that the school was ‘a little further on down the road’. But by then I needed to return to get back to Mabuya Camp before dark.

I relaxed in the campsite for a day and then went back again. This time I found the school – 30miles further on, down a fantastic wee road with incredible views over the massive Lake. I even found, following Miss Mackay’s directions via e-mail, the Headteacher’s wife. Unfortunately her husband, Paul, was away but he would be back tomorrow. I said I’d come back again the following day. I could remove all the luggage and hopefully make it a decent sort of a pleasure run, looping round by the Lake and back over the mountains to Lilongwe.

Paul was smiling at his door on Christmas Eve and explained much to me about what was being done and what needed to be done. He showed me around the school. Eight classrooms and 800 children. The rooms were not big enough for all the children, but somehow the teachers got some sort of a job done. It helped greatly that there were so few discipline problems and the children were co-operative and very keen to learn. The rooms were about the same size as those at Denend, maybe a little bigger, but had no furniture whatsoever in them and only thin blackboards, one at either end. The children sat on the floor. Last year there were 19 children with me in our classroom and we often felt a little cramped, squeezed in by all the gadgets of 'modern' education (like computers that rarely work). It's all relative of course, and you'll struggle to find a teacher anywhere who thinks they have all the resources they need. How Paul and his staff manage, however, is a mystery I'd like to find the answer to. There would be 120 children in this room on the 8th of January. Education has recently been made free for all children in Malawi, but there are not nearly enough teachers or buildings to cope with the school-rush. I hope, when I get back home, that I’ll be able to help build on those links which have already been established.

I had already intended to return to Mabuya. It was a lovely place, brilliantly run by the effervescent Tom and Janey, who themselves had only just arrived to take over from the previous owners. They travelled by Uni-Mog down Western Africa taking 15 months to reach here. There were sufficient quantities of high quality nutcases around to make me think I could be comfortable here. It’d be daft to just go on, hoping to find somewhere 'good' to stay for Christmas, when this was already perfect. My intended target was, I’d been reliably informed, overrun with Ibiza-style South African tourists. I stayed put. In Mabuya, Anne, a retired teacher from Co. Durham was on Christmas safari and staying in her tent after driving her car over Africa from Namibia. She was teaching children with hearing and eyesight problems in Namibia. An inspiration to all, I don't think she'd mind me telling you she was 73, and had only last year cycled around many parts of the world, including all the way across the USA!A young couple in a huge Land Rover were travelling to Victoria Falls with their 9-month old daughter. It’s great to see that really anyone can do this, if they put their minds to it. Young and old, just take some appropriate precautions and you can do anything, go anywhere.

Christmas Eve was the big event here and Tom and Janey put on an excellent barbecue spread, decorated the restaurant and invited all 19 of those of us staying. It was an international set – Germans, South Africans, Israelis, Dutch, Americans, English and me. Everyone mucked in and a splendid time was had. Jason and Dwayne (two mad, but highly entertaining South African Cape-Tonians in far too small a tent, having lost all means of accessing money), cooked dinner. Sandy and Jens, Germans in a Land Rover as old as my BMW (much hilarity about Germans in British machinery and Brits in/on German stuff!) did the decorations. We all dressed for dinner (as best we could), giving me another opportunity to put my kilt on.

After relaxing for Christmas Day, Jens and Sandy are heading down to Mozambique. They said I'd be welcome to tag along to the border, but they are much slower even than me! We all seem to be headed for Cape Town, but I’ll go via Durban in search of a ship to South America. I’ve heard nothing so far, from those shipping companies I’ve e-mailed recently.


At 09/03/2007, 21:21, Blogger Mick said...

See how Tom, Janey and Alf ended up giggling all the way to Lilongwe at - www.bigyellowmog.co.uk

Follow the exciting adventures of two friendly Germans in a 25 year-old Land Rover at - www.tembo-and-the-dust-suckers.de


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