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A Day at the Seaside, Malawian-Style

Well, not exactly Malawian-style, more European-style in Malawi – Salima, Malawi 14 January 1996
Our fourth day in Malawi, following-on from attending a performance by children from the SOS Children’s Village for the vice-president’s wife. We drive along the Malawian motorway to the seaside and ponder on grain, buses and employment.
Today, we go to the seaside, ie lakeside. We all bundled into the old Toyota, stopped at the garage for diesel and bananas, then drove off along the new, British-built road to Salima on Lake Malawi.
This road is a Malawian motorway. It is like a British single-carriageway A-road, with white lines down the middle. Malawian drivers take no notice at all of these, they drive their vehicles at full speed, which could be anything from five to ninety-five miles per hour. The other significant difference from a British motorway is that there is a continuous stream of people walking along the hard shoulder, which is as often as not a soft shoulder. Dead dogs appear in the road every few miles, some surrounded by rocks, where the dog had been knocked down by a car but not killed, so the children finish it off by with a game of throwing stones at in from the roadway edge.
The road passes by fields of maize, rice and cassava, though mostly maize, and through villages of clustered mud huts with thatched roofs.
Malawians live on maize, mostly on maize flour made into a porridge, called nsima. Their diet is said to be getting worse, as high-yielding maize is grown to replace the less profitable groundnuts and cassava. Also, when crops fail or are exhausted, then instead of people eating wild mangoes while they starve as of yore, they are provided by the west with: yet more maize.
Driving towards Salima we pass a large grain store, Malawi’s pride and joy to the extent that a drawing of it appears on every banknote. There is no grain in it. Malawi is a subsistence economy that produces no surplus grain. The store was donated by the EU. [Next political . . .]
We stop at the stalls selling woodcarvings to the tourists. The carvings tend to be done to a formula, though are all hand carved and polished with shoe polish. In Europe the amount of manual effort would make them a luxury item, even if they are done to a formula.
Then through Salima, which like many Malawian towns consists of some shabby garage-like buildings, some of which grandly announce themselves as shops or restaurants. Photo in Salima. and another
From here the road becomes pot-holed to the Livingstonia Beach Hotel. At the gates to the hotel we are allowed in because we are one of: white, rich Asian, or very rich African. We eat a European-style curry for lunch served by black chaps in white shirts and black trousers, looking rather like Black-and-White Minstrels. Malawians are very dark-skinned, perhaps among the darkest in the world.
We walk along the beach, watching a gang of Malawian men who have been commissioned to clear some driftwood that has been washed ashore. They carry it off to the trees somewhere. At knocking-off time, each man seems to have been allowed, or possibly hasn’t, to take home all the wood he can carry, so they file away, each man carrying a branch of a tree on his shoulder or on his head.
In the garden of the hotel we watch yellow weaver birds flying in and out of their hanging nests.
It begins to get dark as we drive home, which increases the hazard-potential greatly as goats and dogs wander across the road, and many Malawian cars have few if any lights.
The story continues with A Trip to Liwonde National Park.


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