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Zomba to Lilongwe

A Ride Back to Our Base, Malawi 20 January 1996
Our tenth day in Malawi, this follows on from Zomba on the Plateau. We drive back to Lilongwe in the fire engine, stopping for lunch in Mozambique, and meeting a fat English slob at teatime.
Today we are driving back to Lilongwe. We pack up the fire engine with conversational help from our new-found friend from yesterday the carpark manager in his shirt and tie. He shows us some banknotes he has been given as a tip. Are they of any value? They are Argentinian and Uruguayan, how unkind. Some South Americans have been at the hotel on a Wilderness Safari. Mike the South African catering manager from Mvuu has been driving them round the Zomba Plateau as part of their ‘safari’. He looks pretty fed up with the whole business.
(We’d met Mike at Mvuu. He was a perfect catering manager: large, personable and clearly a lover of his food. That he was guiding safari trips was a feature of the management roping-in whoever was available as needs must. Mike knew only a patchy outline of the wildlife and other things generally thought of being attributes of a safari guide; he told us of one occasion when he was showing round a party of Japanese Wilderness Safari attendees and, short of a credible-sounding description for anything currently in view waved his arms in the air and exclaimed grandly: ‘Wide African sky!’, at which point the Japanese all pointed their cameras upwards and clicked away at pictures of: yep . . .).
The fire engine at a panorama point.
We drive on the dirt roads to visit two panorama points named on the map as ‘Emporer’s View’ and ‘Queen’s View’. The roads are bumpy and overgrown with grass in places, but we get through. Little boys at Queen’s View are selling ‘smoky quartz’, who to, we do not really know, perhaps they might get four tourist jeeps passing per day if they are lucky.
Back down off the plateau on the dirt road. In one of the slower sections little boys wait to ask for kwatchas. One boy runs alongside the pickup in bare feet over the uneven rocky surface for about half a mile, saying repeatedly: ‘Give me ten kwatchas’. Today is Saturday and the children are not at school.
Back along the M1 motorway, being overtaken by trucks, buses and cars, especially on the downhill stretches. Through towns of bustling markets. Past bush taxis trying to cram yet more people in at the roadside. Numerous women with buckets of water on their head, some of the buckets leaking rather seriously. I am getting quite adept at avoiding potholes.
The scenery changes – gets more mountainous. The map shows we are close to the border with Mozambique.
We pull off the road for our lunch of bread and tomatoes that we bought two days ago, surprised at not being passed, stared at and spoken to by people. There’s no one about. We eat lunch uninterrupted until just as we are packing up our bags a little boy comes and stares at us. We discover later that we have been eating lunch in Mozambique – the road is the border. Most of the villages are on the Malawian side of the road, though people are being encouraged to move back into Mozambique now that the civil war is over so there are now a few villages there.
We press on along the road until we get to Dedza, where there is a pottery.
A fat slob Englishman with a north-of-England accent, beer belly, too-short nylon shorts, and glasses that change colour when someone throws the light switch, is trying to order some pottery. The Malawian salesman seems to be unable to handle the idea that Slob will phone him from Mzuzu and place an order for more plates. This is altogether too new to him.
Coffee at Dedza.
We steer well clear of Slob. When he’s gone we buy some pottery. We order a coffee and cheesecake to eat in the café garden. Seventy-five kwatchas for coffee and cake for two: 2–3 days salary for a Malawian teacher. For us, excellent value as the quality is good.
Then back in the fire engine to Penny and John’s, getting lost in Lilongwe in the final stretch, so arriving in a very jolly mood.
The story continues with Of Dogs and Tears.


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