Friday, 25 April 2008

Kim's Parents in Malawi!

My parents recently descended upon Malawi. While I don’t think either of them could have imagined that they’d ever visit the African continent, my being here served as enough of an incentive to draw them over!

For their first evening here, my house mates and I had my parents over for supper. We whipped up some Malawian delights – pumpkin leaves with ground nut flour and chicken with nsima. My parents got to try their hand at eating nsima; it requires some technique – my dad was a natural, my mum . . . well, she needed some further instruction (sorry mum!)
Photo 1 – Khala and I whipping up dinner

Photo 2 – Mum and Dad’s first nsima

I rented a car for their visit. I feared being quite the hazard on the road, having not driven in 8 months and needing to drive on the left hand side of the road. Not to mention the fact that driving here poses some interesting challenges, including some potholes that seem large enough to swallow the teeny Toyota Starlet I had rented.

Wanting them to dive right into things, on their first full day in Malawi we headed off to spend a little time in a village. We visited the village I stayed in when I first arrived in Malawi. When I had traveled to the village before, I used a motorbike or Land Cruiser; as such, we were able to drive right up to the village. With our little car, however, we had to do the last bit of the journey on foot. We were told that it was a 2 km walk, but from what I remembered, that didn’t seem possible . . . in fact, it was at least an 8 km walk, and took quite some time. My dad learned the wonders of using one’s head to carry things, he’s a fan!
Photo 3 – Dad showing off: no hands!

The village stay was quite fantastic. Too short, but my parents did get a good taste of Malawian village life. The whole family seemed very happy to see me again, and they were thrilled that I brought my parents.
Photo 4 – Mr. Chisamba showing my parents his groundnut (peanut) field

We stayed in a newly constructed mud hut. I had prepared my parents in advance for the fact that they would have to sleep on a reed mat. I assured them that it wasn't too bad - after the 2 weeks I spent sleeping on one the last time I was in the village, I was almost convinced that I didn't need a mattress at all (though I did end up picking one up when I returned to the city). However, while I had the same bed frame + reed mat combination I slept on last time, my parents were totally spoiled – they had a full bed, mattress and all!
Photo 5 – our hut

We spent our time in there sitting and chatting with people, helping (well . . . we tried to help anyway) with or at least observing various tasks, visiting, etc. My parents learned how to do tasks such as preparing pumpkin leaves for dinner, cooking nsima, pounding maize, taking dried kernels off of corn cobs, etc. There was plenty to fill our time.
Photo 6 – Dekernelling maize

Another major activity was eating . . . In the morning of the day we left, Mr. Chisamba, the head of the family, asked when we’d be needing to leave, and when we’d like lunch. I told him that we had to be off by around 1pm, so, lunch any time before that would be fine. We had had breakfast sometime around 7:30 – 8 in the morning, consisting of big “scones” (buns), biscuits, and tea. Around 10:00 a tray of food was brought to our hut; low and behold, it contained a full meal, consisting of rice, and relishes of tasty soya pieces and vegetables. It was a little early to have such a big meal! After eating what we thought was lunch, we packed up our things. My dad was standing by the doorway when I heard him exclaim: “oh no!” I thought something bad might have happened, so I rushed over to see what was wrong – there I saw Ellis striding over with another tray of food. So, at 11:15, we had our second lunch of the day! This time, nsima, tasty soya pieces, vegetables, and chicken. My parents were still stuffed from the previous meal, and didn’t think they could eat another bite. However, I informed them that it wasn’t really an option - by rules of Malawian etiquette they at least had to have a few bites! This really is just one example of incredible Malawian hospitality – this is not a terribly well off family, but they were so kind and generous with what food they had.

No one in the family asked anything of us; I have heard stories of volunteers returning to rural host families, and finding themselves bombarded with requests for money, cell phones, etc. I came with a bag of staple food items as a thank you for putting us up. We gave them a small gift of cash when we left – the least we could do considering how generous they were with food and everything – but I don’t think it was even expected.

After leaving the village, we were headed to Cape Maclear. We were told that the drive would take us around 2.5 hours. It went well enough for the first hour or so. I drove, and managed to avoid hitting any of the pedestrians, bicyclists, goats, etc that serve as obstacles on the roadways here. Then, we turned onto the M10 highway – which, according to the map anyway, is supposed to be a major highway – for the next 70 km towards Cape Maclear. However, as soon as we turned onto it, the lovely paved roads I had been enjoying abruptly ended, and I found myself crawling at 10 km/hr on a horrible dirt road. I’m still not entirely convinced we were even on the correct road, but I don’t know what else it could have been! The drive from this point took another 4 hours. It was BRUTAL. I was driving the smallest car I’ve ever driven on the worst roads I’ve ever driven on! There were definitely points along the journey I just didn’t think we were going to make it.

The following morning we headed to Mumbo Island, which is an island privately owned by a safari company, a couple kilometers offshore from Cape Maclear. It’s beautiful, bilharzia (a nasty parasite that inhabits the waters along much of the shoreline of the lake) free waters and beach tout (annoying guys that pester tourists relentlessly to buy stupid crafts or use their tour services) free beaches sounded like an excellent part of the lake to bring my parents. We stayed in swank safari tents. It was a lovely little island escape, offering great snorkeling and kayaking, nice walks, and good food.
Photo 7 – Safari tents on Mumbo Island
Photo 8 – My parents and I
Photo 9 – Nice view
Photo 10 –A smaller island just off the beach, where 5 of the 7 tents were located

Our next stop was Liwonde National Park. We participated on walking, and sunset drive safaris. We saw lots of various antelope type creatures, warthogs, birds, and hippos, but sadly the elephants eluded us.
Photo 11 – Hippos!
Photo 12 – View of the river
Photo 13 – Warthogs
Photo 14 – Ungulates galore!

From Liwonde we traveled just a short distance to Zomba. We had meant just to pop up for a cup of tea at a nice hotel on the plateau, but as we were leaving I spied a poster for a nearby stable which offered trail rides on the plateau. We called them up and arranged for an afternoon ride, and checked into the hotel.
Photo 15 - The lovely gardens of the Ku Chawe Hotel

The ride was quite lovely! The stables had been open for a year, but they had only recently started advertising, which is probably why I hadn’t heard about it before. They had 5 beautiful horses; the stable owner said that all but one came from Zimbabwe, rescued after being abandoned when the white farmers were forced out. We went on a ride lasting a couple of hours, through old stands of pine trees and some indigenous forests, passing a few illegal logging camps along the way.
Photo 16 – We had to cross a dam at the beginning of the ride
Photo 17 – It was nice to be back on a horse again!
Photo 18 – After the ride, we were invited back to the stable owner’s home. She had a ridiculous view from her garden.

We then headed to Mulange Mountain, the highest peak in Central Africa. It is a nice spot, a picturesque mountain, especially with the tea plantations at its base.
Photo 19 – Buying dinner supplies in Mulange town. Here I’m buying oil – you can buy oil in little baggies, quite handy for our purposes!
Photo 20 – Mulange mountain with tea plantations in the foreground

I went for a hike to a waterfall – it’s too bad I didn’t have time to hike up to the highest peak, a trek which takes a couple of days by most. After the hike, I went for a dip in the Likhubula pools, a great swimming spot in a mountain stream. We stayed at a nice little chalet, and used the surprisingly well equipped kitchen to prepare a tasty dinner.
Photo 21 – Waterfall on Mulange
Photo 22 – Lukhubula pools

The following day we drove through the tea plantations of Thyolo on our way to Blantyre. Tea is the second most important export crop in Malawi. It is grown mainly in the southern region, particularly in the areas around Thyolo. The tea plantations result in a landscape quite unlike that elsewhere in the country – the tea growing in low shrubs, harvested by workers wearing large baskets on their backs.
Photo 23 – Tea fields in Tyolo, with tea pickers hard at work.

In Blantyre we did some fabric shopping and went out for a very nice dinner. The next day we returned to Lilongwe, stopping in Dedza for pottery and cheesecake along the way.
Photo 24 – St. Michaels and all Angels Church
Photo 25 – My mum picking up some tailoring in Blantyre
Photo 26 – By far, the yummiest dessert I’ve had while in Malawi! Mmmm . . . meringue + macadamia nuts + vanilla ice cream + chocolate and caramel sauce = heaven.
Photo 27 – Emerging from the chaos, as I picked up some produce, somewhere between Blantyre and Lilongwe
Photo 28 – I love the strange combinations you find for businesses here

The following day we went to the Mua Mission and cultural centre, where we learned a lot about the culture and history of Malawi, and purchased some carvings for which the centre is famous.

Photo 29 – Kugoni Cultural Centre

I then sent my parents off on a safari in Zambia, to South Luangwa National Park for 4 days. They did pretty well – they saw the usual elephants, giraffe, zebras, impalas, hippos, crocodiles, etc. As a bonus, they saw some other quite cool things – 2 leopards (beautiful yet elusive creatures!), honey badgers (apparently very rare…), and a python!

We had a couple days of running around Lilongwe before my parents were shipped off to Canada. I'm so glad that they had the chance to come and check out this lovely little country of Malawi, as it is a place that will hold a very special place in my heart long after I leave.