Monday, 24 March 2014

Big Ones

My roomie is into recycling, so one of our weekly jaunts is to collect used bottles from local bars.  Last week, Ny was emptying a cardboard box into the back of the truck and started screaming as she flung a bottle at a time into the back.

Ny is a hardy soul, and isn't freaked out by much, so I was rather concerned. There were quite a few OMGs coming from her.  When I asked what was up, she said, 'they're - very - big' as another bottle went flying.  I looked at the cardboard box she had been carrying and a long pair of antennae wobbled into view over the edge.  Then another three pairs.  Then the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen in my life started to emerge.

I told Ny to throw the box on the ground and pick up the bottles once they rolled out.  Bottles went rolling across the tarmac car park followed by the Armada of insects.

They were strangely beautiful.  They were a deep, polished red and segmented like a lobster.  Their antennae wibbled as they zig zagged in confusion.  I watched them from the 4x4, my feet safely tucked up on the running board.  This was lucky as a couple decided to run underneath me.  Each one wouldn't have left much skin visible if you held it in the palm of your hand.

One of the local men had been alerted by the screaming and the rattle of bottles flying, and came over and started trying to stamp on one of the cockroaches.  He picked the really, really big one, that looked like it was towing a trailer (I think it might have been a  pregnant female).   It took him a few goes, while the cockroach started moving like a bumper car on speed.  I felt a bit sad when his foot landed and squelched the poor creature.

Well, sad but relieved I suppose.

We had to check the bottles really carefully before bringing them into our accommodation, I really didn't want to step on one of those in bare feet.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Pesky things

I have had some interesting conversations this week, about pesky things in Malawi.  These started out mainly due to my fear of Ronnie the Rat.  Rat sightings are quite common here, apparently it is normal to see one in your house about twice a week.

I asked about termites, because there have been interesting, wood pulpy trails appearing in our accommodation.  The guard I was talking to helpfully went and found a bit of termite hill, and put it near my feet.  The termites came out to play a bit too close to my toes (which were exposed in flip flops) for comfort.  'Do they bite' I asked rather nervously.
'Oh yes, nasty bite' said the guard.
I shuffled my feet back a bit.

A few days previously I had had a chat with a colleague about snakes.  Had he seen any?  Turns out hehad been sitting in church the week before, and one had dropped off the ceiling into his lap.  He hadn't particularly enjoyed the sermon he said, with a wry smile.  Warming to his theme, he then told me about once walking through a door, and how something caught his eye and made him look back.  It was a python writhing around the frame.

This came back to me as the termites were enjoying their frolic.
'What about snakes?' I asked the guard (I still haven't learned, even after all these years TO NOT ASK QUESTIONS YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE ANSWERS FOR.

'Oh yes' said the guard.
Turns out the gardener found A BLACK MAMBA IN THE VEGETABLE PATCH last week.


The only positive thing I could think about the black mamba was that it would probably finish Ronnie off at some point.

I just hope it gets Ronnie before it gets me........

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Don't go walking after dark.....

Here in the suburbs of Lilongwe each house is built like a fortress.  The walls are high, around six foot, and topped with vicious looking barbed wire.  The gates are made of steel, and watched over by guards and hefty dogs.  No one walks the streets after dark for fear of being attacked.  If you do go out in your car, woe betide anyone who breaks down.  There are no roadside rescue teams here, and if you do get attacked, the police are unlikely to come, and there's not much chance of an ambulance either.  Occasionally you can see an 'armed response' team cruise past, watching over those properties that are wealthy enough to pay the premiums for gun-toting guardsmen.  The streets are dark, Malawi doesn't have working street lights, so any bandits can melt back into the shadows, safe from any inconvenient interruption by the law in any shape or form.

It means that you are essentially living under what feels like a military curfew, only without any soldiers on the street, because no-one is on the street.  People with cars are able to cruise around, but no-one is going to drive any distance after sunset.  I did hear of one person who left it rather late to travel cross country.  He saw a glazed-eyed pedestrian walk in front of his car.  He swerved to avoid the pedestrian, stopped the car but immediately was set upon by a gang.  His passenger was a local man and urged the driver to speed away, which he did.

The other thing to bear in mind, is that as Malawi is so close to the equator, sunset and sunrise are both around 6 o'clock all year round.  This means you have to seal yourself into your burglar-barred concrete bunker quite early in the evening.  It's a seriously weird way to live your life.  All the windows have burglar bars, so you feel like you are in a safe, which isn't that safe, because of course, if there is a fire, you are trapped.  Some gangs apparently have hydraulic cutters, which isn't great news.  If you do get a lift or drive out, all the venues have guards or guarded compounds for your car, so you drive from one hermetically sealed environment to another.

Malawi has a very polarised population.   Poverty has a strangle-hold on a lot of the country, which leads to widespread corruption, from the government (there has been a recent 'Cashgate' scandal) down to the garage mechanics who will mend your car, but swap all the accessories for inferior quality items in order to sell the better ones.

Malawi has beautiful scenery, wonderful people and amazing wildlife and is indeed the 'warm heart of Africa' - but only during sunlight.  Something metamorphoses with the daylight.  What I am not clear about is how real the risk of injury by attack is.  If everyone hides after sunset, and the streets are empty, they are more dangerous.  If everyone ran a 'reclaim the streets' campaign, and all went out to move the curfew to say, 10pm, might it not be safe again?  Could everyone not regain a little freedom?

Nice tree, shame about the barbed wire.
What is really alarming is that the local people think it is normal to live like this, 'Why would you want to go out in the evening and take the risk?' was one comment when I enquired about it.

I hope the UK never gets like this, I really enjoy the very normal act of walking back from places in the dark, at any hour, walking in my local park in the dark.  We mustn't all end up in fortified bunkers, we must love our communities and help each other.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Monkey Bay

Wow, what a weekend.

I went to Monkey Bay, towards the southern tip of Lake Malawi.  A very beautiful place, so beautiful, it looks hyper-real in my photo:

My host was the best host in the universe.  I felt like I was staying in the ultimate five star hotel, only it was nicer.  My bedroom had a large balcony overlooking the lake, and at night I could hear the occasional hippo making that low pitched, voluptuous belching noise hippos do.

Even though I was assured 'crocodiles haven't been seen since 2012', after last weekend, I decided against a swim.  When I stood at the edge of the sand looking out, I could almost feel marble sized eyes checking me out.

The garden was a model of perma culture excellence, and as a result, all the food I ate over the weekend was organically grown, fresh from the plant and displayed with a daintiness that made it even more delicious.  Breakfast included, amongst other things, a fruit salad made with dragon fruit, home made muesli, traditional curds and home made bread.  Lunch was home made hummus, bread, peanut butter, salad and the most amazing smoked fish pate, the taste of which I will remember forever.  The fish had come fresh from the lake.  I could write about the food for ages, but will not torture you further....

The sun rose around 5am, so this morning I was up early with my camera to catch the view looking towards Mozambique:
Walking round the bay it was wonderful to see the fisherman silently going out in their dugout canoes, the swifts darting low over the water for the mosquitos, and to see the local children playing in the water.

The house I was staying in (the beach photos were taken from the bottom of the garden)

On the way back, we drove across the Dedza mountain range which gave fabulous views from the top, of the rift valley and the lake sweeping away into the distance.

I am constantly bowled over on my adventure by the extreme kindness and generosity of strangers.