A Travellerspoint blog

Malawi

Chizi

Chizumulu is small, relaxed, friendly, and home to what I can only describe as the most bizarre and inventive set of 'Give me kids' in Malawi. I didn't do much on Chizi: I relaxed a bit, played numerous games of Backgammon and the worryingly addictive Bao. I wandered around the entire circumference of the Island (and yes, if Nose, Fester, Baz or one or two others happen to be reading this, there is a very old joke in there somewhere), collecting kids pied piper style, excepting the lack of music.

But the kids on Chizi were creative to say the least: One kid of about 7 told me long and in great detail about his long struggle, and great jihad he is currently undertaking against his T-shirt (showing me the holes in the T-shirt's back here he had had some victories) to the endless amusement of some of the other kids. I was also bombarded with 'Give me's', which ranged from the normal (money, pen, sweet etc) to the cheeky (Give me cellphone) to the surreal: Give me Grandma, Give me Big Issue and Give me Vagina being the 3 most memorable, though I'm not entirely sure which is my favourite.

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About the only other thing that we did was buy and slaughter a goat. And he was pretty damned tasty.

Billy, out goat, before, during and after...
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Posted by Gelli 03:05 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A return to the Ilala

In the end I decided that I had to return yet again, in what I assumed would be a valiant if utterly fruitless attempt to get my police certificate. But in a stunning twist with tradition, I actually got it after only 3 further visits to the police station, and much shouting amongst themselves in Chichewa, of which i have not the foggiest what was being said. And so it transpired that I was in Nkhata Bay on the day the Ilala left for the islands. Over a month ago, I had rocked up in Nkhata Bay with the aim of making just such a journey, but without knowing what day the boat left , to discover I had just missed it. 3weeks in Nkhata Bay and Ruarwe later, and I left Nkhata Bay not expecting to return or be able to visit the islands on this trip.

But being in the right place at the right time (an amazingly unlikely occurrence for me) and just about having enough time decided me. It was now or never. The Ilala in all it's 100+year history is now slightly creaking, shall we say, and all was not well. She had been late arriving after an almost slapstick attempts to fix her had failed, and then only managed an unplanned 2hour tour of the lake at strange hours of the morning (a free journey) instead of actually making it North as timetabled, after breaking yet again.

To be honest, I didn't actually expect it to depart, let alone to go anywhere useful for me. And so we sat in the bar at Aqua Africa talking to people long after the alleged departure time. But at 10pm, we were told that the boat would be leaving soon-ish, so said our farewells and tried to board. The problem was that this leg of the boats journey is by far the busiest, and all the locals had boarded hours ago, leaving the 3rd and 2nd class deck which you board through, erm, quite full. In the end I resolved to cheat, and to the amusement of the many locals watching, climbed up the outside of the boat and in to the first class deck area. My Israeli companion fought her way through the lower carnage and appeared much later. Astonishingly, barely 4.5hours late and without crashing into anything overly significant, we finally left, and after 5hours sat on the open deck (Notable only for the rat which ran over my leg repeatedly during the night) arrived at Chizumulu Island the next morning without incident.

Chizumulu and Likoma are two small islands in Lake Malawi; Malawian due to historical links although well within Mozambique's territorial waters. After a failed attempt to disembark passengers (too choppy) we found another more sheltered bay, lowered our bags over the side and fought our way off.

I never expected to actually make it this far. Anything else is a bonus.

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The real steering was completely f*cked, so the Ilala was being piloted from this hi-tech backup system, with guys on the bridge shouting directions at them constantly through the night. The rear compass, alas, does not agree with the front one, and the rear steering is also held in place pretty much by duct tape and bungees, and breaks frequently, so it isn't really a huge surprise that it failed again...

Posted by Gelli 03:02 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

What's in a Malawian name?

I still cherish the memory of the looks on their faces. It was, I believe, a Friday night in Nkhata Bay, and 5 young English girls wandered into the bar. They were all dolled up as one might be for a big night out in Romford, or, perhaps, the University of Luton, and to me they all looked about 14years old. The came in with a kind of semi-swagger that implied they were used to being the centre of attention, pampered by all, knew everything about everything and generally looked down on us mere mortals that weren't being funded by Daddy's gold card.

Everybody has to start traveling at some point, and you generally start by knowing pretty much b*gger all. Most learn soon enough. Most of us gave them a quick glance, half shrugged and got on with ignoring them and continuing whatever it was we were doing beforehand. But one of the locals in our group had seen something he liked: He walked over to the girls, who were still standing in the centre of the room taking the atmosphere and setting in, with what now looked like faint unease on their faces. Our friend walked up to them, and says 'Hello and welcome. My name is Chicken Pizza. What are your names?'

The look on at least 4 of the 5 faces was priceless. These alpha-girls, who knew everything suddenly betrayed the fact that they had only been in Africa for 2days and really had no idea what the heck was going on. They also didn't seem to be the brightest, as you could see the single shared braincell desperately trying to compute what Chicken had just said, and if they had heard correctly. A combination of semi laughter, confusion, indignation and incredulity washed over them before almost as one, they said 'you what?!'

But they had heard correctly.

Though they certainly don't all have crazy names, in Malawi it is pretty common for the beach boys and those locals who hang around at backpacker haunts and the like to have taken on assumed names which are often a bit daft, but probably easier to remember and pronounce than their real names. Thus, as well as several Kelvin's, Benji's, Koumbe and good solid African names like Innocent and Special, I have also met the likes of Chicken Pizza, Cheese on Toast, Lemon Squeezy, Bacon Sandwich, Eggy Bread, Happy Ending and Bottle of Gin as well as at least a couple that sound more like old fashioned American Indian chief names: Staggers when Drunk and Shits in Bushes both come to mind. One lovely small Mzungu girl had wanted to take on the local name Battery Acid, though it hadn't managed to stick.

As for me? One or two people tried to come up with a suitable name one night, and then came to a happy drunken agreement. You can be sure, however, that I will not be introducing myself to all that many people by saying “Hi. I'm sleeping with sheep”...

Posted by Gelli 04:21 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Ants with Nukes

How to solve the problem of Africa

DISCLAIMER: The views within this blog entry may not represent the views of my employer. To be fair, as i'm already more than 7months late – and this number will rise - back, I may not even have an employer anymore anyway. But even if I do, they might not agree with this. As might most of you. And really, there is no need for this post at all anyway, let alone for any of you lot to actually READ it. Oh no. You might as well just skip it. I just wrote it because in a slightly bored moment, i realised that somebody needed to say it, and that might as well be me.

Whilst sitting in the bar of Mabuya Camp, Lilongwe's premier – and, pretty much only – backpacker destination, i got talking to Sam, the friendly if sometimes confused (OK. Always confused) barman. It wasn't the first night I was there – and won't be the last – and so we were continuing, to the utter bemusement and incomprehension of anybody else within earshot, with our attempts at solving what, in our high and mighty and possibly drunken tones, we had described as the problem of Africa.

In a nutshell, that meant NGO's.

Now before you all start sending hate mail to the wonderful overlords (Hi Sam and Pete) here at Travellerspoint, or go and actually do something useful (you know: watching dry paint fade, rearranging your ties according to hue, or talking to your wives/husbands/partners/kids [delete as appropriate], that sort of thing), I should probably explain. I will start with another disclaimer: There are many, many NGO's that produce brilliant – indeed, often miraculous – results every week, all over the world. There is lots of good work done, and there are any number of minor Saints who, day after day, fight against a virtually incomprehensible range of problems, bureaucracy, corruption, stupidity, incompetence and odds in order to try and make peoples lives better. And there are lots of well meaning, well intended aid and NGO workers and projects in Africa, and indeed the world. That I am not disputing.

What I am saying, is that so much more could be done with even half the current resources and donations that are used, if more of it was actually of immediate relevance to the people who are they think they are helping. For years it was a vague curiosity of mine that Aid/NGO workers (especially the 2white people in a brand new white 4x4's that proliferate allover the world) were pretty much the most despised people to locals around the world. In all seriousness, I have met people in countries that Dubya Bush declared war on (or at least royally f*cked over, though I admit that doesn't narrow the list of countries down much, if at all) who much prefer Dubya – even love him – in comparison to NGO's and Aid workers.

It is an odd situation to fully grasp. Do the locals not understand that they are here to help, I thought? Then, one day several years ago in a really really really poor village somewhere lost in my memory, I finally realised (or admitted) what I think I had always known at least subconsciously: They are here to help, but are really not helping. Too much aid/NGO is about the aid company feeling good in themselves, showing the people back home how great they are and how much they care and how much they are helping, whilst simultaneously managing to not actually help out the people they are supposed to be – and are saying they are – in the slightest, for a variety of reasons. I would even go so far as to state that in the medium to long term, significantly more than 50% of the normally well-meaning aid 'given', actively make things worse (sometimes significantly worse) for those it is intended to help, in one way or another. I wish I was joking. I really, really am not.

I don't have the time (or, really, the inclination) to expand that to the lengths that I probably should, full of detailed examples and personal experiences, but I will happily debate that point in depth with anybody who wishes to, when I have more time, internet access, and possibly alcohol. For now, to those of you frothing at the mouth and plotting my long and painful death – or, worse, tipping off Kiki to my whereabouts – let's just agree that everybody is entitled to their own opinions and let it go at that.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the bar at Mabuya.

Anyhow, Sam and I were discussing this problem (and it was him that started this long 3 day debate, saying how useless the NGO's are, not me) and how to save Africa. We started off by thinking that the easiest way was just to destroy Africa and then start again. But then we felt that to be grossly unfair to all the innocent animals and locals. So we looked at removing all the animals and most of the locals, and then bombing the utter sh1t out of Africa, killing the NGOs and then returning the animals and locals; ideally with new countries and national borders that actually make sense (unlike 99% of existing African borders which are basically, ignorant, arrogant imperial European f*ck ups). But logistically, that would be hard: To take just one reason, there are no planes able to carry a big enough payload to drop a single nuke that would be powerful enough to destroy Africa. And we don't have the budget for the number of planes that would be needed to do it independently. And besides, such an approach would also destroy much of the glorious nature and countryside that Africa contains.

We needed a different approach. One on a smaller scale.

To this day, I don't know the route we took – and it was a long, convoluted and possibly (though actually, not all that) drunken night to be sure – to arrive at our conclusion, but in the end it was pretty much agreed.

Yup, Ants with nukes are the answer to all of Africa's problems.

Posted by Gelli 01:38 Archived in Malawi Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

How do you hide a double mattress from 4 security guards?

Hi folks, It's quiz time. Hooray, i hear you shout. Or that could just be the voices in my head.

For todays starter, what is the following a list of?:
- A swiss army knife
- 200usd
- 2 cigarette lighters
- A mobile phone
- A small container of antiseptic handwash

So what are you thinking so far? Contents of a handbag? A survival kit? That would be feasible, for sure. But no, not quite. Let's continue.
- A pair of shoes
- A pink camera
- An Ipod
- 10000 Malawian Kwacha
- a USB memory stick

Now that's starting to look a bit more obvious, isn't it? But then again, we can continue on a bit more and see if we can stump you properly.
- Half a pack of chewing gum
- 2 half bikini's (both bottom halves)
- A skype headset
- 2 handkerchiefs

That starts to confuse things a bit more, doesn't it? But as you are all clever people, i'm sure that you have already worked it out. And you don't even need to see the final 2 items on our list:
- A lightbulb
- A double mattress

So what is this motley list of items a list of? Yup, as i'm sure many of you have guessed, it is a list of items that were stolen from our dorm room. Whilst all 4 of us were asleep inside it.

Robberies are a sad fact of life. But whilst pickpockets, bag snatchings and opportunist thieves are one thing, robberies from a room you are actually asleep in are a bit different. And this was no opportunist robbery. Exactly what happened will doubtless always remain unknown, but it was very deliberate and almost surgical in it's execution.

Two of us are very light sleepers, yet none of us heard anything or woke up. And it wasn't as if the thieves snuck in grabbed whatever they could and fled. Everything i lost (barring the phone which was on the floor next to my bed) was in zipped pockets of my trousers, which were next to my bed. But they didn't just grab my trousers, or even open the pockets and grab stuff and go: They were so confident that they had time to open my wallet and look inside: I know this because an email address on a piece of paper which had been under some money in the wallet was on the floor, and could not have accidentally fallen out. My passport was also left on the floor.

The dorm had a door which stuck, and needed a hard shove to open (and made noise), and all but one of the floorboards squeak like heck, but we still heard nothing. And the floor on one side was an utter mess of assorted bags and stuff, yet the thieves still were able to root through and find what they wanted without disturbing us. The following morning, a handbag, my wallet and two pairs of trousers (not mine) were found just outside, missing anything of sellable value, but nothing else: Passports, credit cards etc were all left. My wallet had been gone through carefully, but they had even attempted to put items back in it instead of just dump the stuff they didn't want. One of the girls purses was found minus the useful cash, of course, but still included coins. or some of them. The thieves had been that brazen/confident that outside the door of the room they had just robbed they would go through all the coins in a purse and only steal the Malawian ones – euro and British pound coins were left.

Then there was my pockets: A cigarette lighter and the chewing gum went from one pocket, but my watch (a knackered old one, admittedly) and a pen in the same pocket was left. And amazingly, my 'day' cash in my back pocket was missed by the thieves, and so still there. And why steal dirty handkerchiefs???? The two bikini bottoms (also, perhaps unsurprisingly, not mine) were hanging up to dry outside, but next to their corresponding tops which were still there. One of the girl shoes had been stolen, but mine which were just as accessible were left. A couple of other bags and zips on bags (again not mine) had been opened and pockets searched but contents left.

And the double mattress (taken from the room next door, which was empty) had had the sheets taken of it and neatly folded on the floor. It just make no sense. The lightbulb had been removed from the outside light from next doors room, but totally removed and stolen as opposed to just unscrewed or dumped. The light in next doors room had been left on earlier that day by accident and yet was still on: the mattress wasn't even taken from a dark room. There were 4 night watchmen on duty and many lights on around the site, yet no one could see a lightbulb being removed or a double mattress being stolen....?

It is all very strange. Later the following day after the inevitable farce of dealings with the Malawian police, i randomly – and very luckily - found my swiss army knife and USB stick in a nearby cactus. But it was in such a place that it can not have fallen accidentally, and must have been deliberately chucked. Why? Who knows!

Robberies are always annoying, but it could have been much worse. My personally loss of 200usd, 3500ish Mkw (about 25usd), my phone and some small very random bits was frustrating but not the end of the world – the dollars are the worst because i need them for visas, but there is very little foreign reserves in Malawi and so replacing them is going to be hard and at an appalling rate. Of the other stuff, the camera's photo's had luckily been burnt to CD only 2 days previously, the ipods songs on her home computer and her boyfriend flying out in a weeks time so he can bring another pair of shoes. We could have all come out of it much worse.

The hardest part is understanding how none of us woke up or heard anything (none of us had had much to drink, 2 of the girls nothing at all) despite the creaky door and floor and the obvious time they spent in our room and then sorting stuff just outside. if any of us had woken up feeling iffy, or it had been elsewhere, i would have instantly suspected gassing. As it was, we all woke feeling fine – rapidly changing when the losses were realised – and all that is left is a big mystery.

Posted by Gelli 06:14 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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