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Zomba on the Plateau

A Day at Zomba, Malawi 19 January 1996
Our ninth day in Malawi, this follows on from Liwonde to Zomba. We search for some sanitary products, eventually finding Sainsbury’s, well sort of, then we go for a stroll in the bush and meet a baboon.
Hilary has a period and has left her tampons in Lilongwe. After our English-style breakfast served by flunkying Malawians in the Ku Chawe Inn hotel we bounce down the dirt road to Zomba town, having first baffled the Malawian receptionist by our needs, but been helped out by a UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) worker who had been having an important discussion meeting in the expensive hotel. The pharmacy seemed to be what we wanted.
Where is the pharmacy? We ask a youth dressed in university robes and casj (as in casual) trainers. His instructions were imprecise, though he obviously knew where the pharmacy was and wanted to be helpful, he was just not practised in giving clear instructions.
Hilary went to ask in the doctor’s surgery, which being a private clinic was completely empty. The smiley African doctor gave equally unclear instructions, but at least gave the name of the shop, which turned out to be exactly opposite – the doctor had given instructions from the road junction, not making it entirely clear which direction or which side of the road to look on, rather than directions from where we were at that actual moment.
In the Indian-run, spotlessly clean pharmacy, Hilary could not resist one of the brands of press-on towels on offer: Sainsbury’s! Quite how products from Sainsbury’s came to be on the shelves in a pharmacy in Zomba was a question we thought it politic not to ask.
Then into the market to buy an African skirt, ie a wrap, choosing good sense over fun and not buying the cloth that was printed with pictures of Mozambique banknotes.
We should buy some tapes of Malawian music. Ask at a stall. The youths play us some examples on their cheap plastic Brixton briefcase, assuring us that the songs are in Chichewa and by Malawian bands, we’re not so sure though. They press us to buy gospel and religious music, presumably because that is what they think we should like.
Having bought a couple of tapes for 30 kwatchas each (about £1.25) we look at another stall selling tapes and discover we have been done. The tapes we bought were pirate copies. The originals can be had for 35 kwatchas.
Back up the hill to Ku Chawe, where we sit on the balcony of our room to read and watch the man take about forty-five minutes to tidy our room, and still only leave us with one handtowel and a bathmat.
Then we put on our walking boots and go for a walk on the Zomba plateau, which consists of undulating hills high up. We run the gauntlet of the carpark attendant, who wants to chat the afternoon away, seems to be hoping we’ll buy him an air ticket to the UK.
We follow paths through the forest, by smoky African hut dwellings, eventually getting lost, or rather taking a path that seems to be heading off in a completely different direction from what the map shows. The map cost us thirty kwatchas in the hotel, £1.25 to us, more than a day’s pay for a Malawian teacher.
We retrace our steps and find a path that is definitely on the map, driveable except for the fallen trees. We round a bend and there in front of us on the path is a big, red-mouthed baboon. Will he move out of our way or attack us? Pick up a stick and shake it at him. He lopes off into the bush. We see him sitting on the hillside, looking left and right lordily.
Passing poverty-struck loggers’ shacks – probably not official loggers, probably they pick up whatever bits of wood they can find or chop down illegally. Then we suppose they put a bundle of sticks on their head and walk it down to Zomba to sell as firewood. We see the bundles of sticks, just about at the limit of liftability.
We walk down the forested path by cataracts, but it is threatening rain so we do not linger but march back to the hotel. Men are pacing about in forest clearings, we guess looking for mushrooms, but could be all manner of things.
We were intending to skip dinner but go for it anyway. Pretty terrible.
The story continues with Zomba to Lilongwe.


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