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Africa Travel

Malawi

August 23, 2016
Staycuriousdarling.com

The closer we got to the Malawi boarder, the more the temperature began to rise and rise. By 1pm the sun was high in the sky and the heat was stifling. The truck began to pitter and putter and then came to a complete stop. As it turns out our clutch broke again and this time we would have no such luck fixing it. Our trip leader Kevin arranged for Daladalas to take us the rest of the way to the boarder and we set up to have lunch on the side of the road in the meantime. I got out of the truck to help Jarrod prepare lunch and all of a sudden felt an overwhelming dizziness and had to sit down. I’m not sure if it was the heat, dehydration or lack of sleep but I was severely nauseous for the next hour and had to take a anti-nausea just to stand up. The daladala didn’t take too long to show up and we were en-route again to the boarder. When we got to the boarder we had to switch into Malawian daladals and the group was split into 3 smaller groups. Kevin, our trip leader stayed with the driver and the truck and Jarrod our cook came with us to the campsite. The daladala driver I had wore a straw hat and looked as though he hadn’t slept for days. He pulled away from the boarder like a mad man and sped around the corner to a makeshift gas station. The β€œgas station” was actually just a bunch of men selling what I assumed to be gas out of Jerry cans and measuring the gas in 500ml water bottles and then pouring it into the gas tank using the top of a water bottle that had been turned into a funnel. The driver left the car running the entire time just to add to the thrill of ride. What’s a gas station visit without the possibility of blowing up? I suppose. Our crazy driver then sped along the road to some unknown destination. He almost hit livestock and people on more than one occasion and had to slam on the breaks. When he slammed on the breaks the seats moved forward and would not move back again. His driving was crazy and with no seatbelts in a rickety old van he was surely putting our lives in some very real danger. We asked him to slow down more than once and he just laughed and continued on his mad rage of speed and recklessness. At one point he was stopped at one of the many roadblocks the police have set up through out Malawi and detained for not having a working fire extinguisher. A car full of Muzungu’s was sure to attract solicitation of a bribe and when the driver tried to make us pay we refused on principal and sat in the car to wait for 20 minutes while he worked out the details with the officer. We finally made it to camp just as the sun was setting and were relived to finally be there alive. We upgraded to rooms and settled in for the night. Sleep was impossible because of the heat. I think Malawi was the first time I ever enjoyed and looked forward to a cold shower. The heat was unforgiving. Five minutes after getting out of a cold shower you needed another. The air is stagnant and the heat sits on top of your skin like a blanket you are unable to pull off.

Early the next morning we got up and took a guided walk through the village of Chitimba. Even at 7 in the morning the heat was almost too much to bare. The walk took us first to a Primary school. Chitimba Primary School has 8 qualified teachers and 6 student teachers for over 1500 children. It is a government-funded school that opened in 1928. The classrooms were bare and unfurnished. Primary school in Malawi is free but in order to attend the students must be in uniform. A school uniform can cost 2000 kwatcha for boys and 3000 kwatcha for girls. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa and most families do not earn this much money in a week making it impossible for some children to attend school and further contributing to the cycle of poverty.

The school does accept donations and they can be sent to:

Chitimba Primary School
PO Box 30 Chitimba Rumphi East
Malawi, Central Africa

I do suggest doing a significant amount of research before sending anything, especially money.

After visiting the school we went into the village to visit the witch doctor. Witch craft is still believed in and practiced in Malawi and many of the people in the villages trust the witch doctor and would seek his advice before going to a western style clinic. We were invited into his home so that we could ask him questions and talk with him. Afterwards we danced with him and he told us our future. When I asked him how he became the witch doctor he told me his grandfather used to the a witch doctor and after his grandfather passed away he had a dream that his grandfather visited him and told him that he must now become the witch doctor for the village. After this dream he went into the mountains for 5 years where the spirits taught him how to use herbs and prepare medicine. He has the dream when he was 15 years old and emerged from a solitude existence in the mountains at age 20. He is now 65 and said he can cure all diseases except for AIDS because this is a strong disease. People come from surrounding villages to see him and when he dances he claims he gets visions that show him what people are suffering from. He does send people to the hospital when or if his treatment fails. He makes potions for everything from stomach issues and malaria to love and hangovers. It was a very interesting experience. I think if the doctors and this man could find some way to work together it would be very use. He has the trust of the people and the hospital often has the medicine they need.

After visiting the witch doctor we went to visit the rural health clinic. Also funded by the government and also falling apart. The clinic has one doctor and two nurses and sees about 90-100 patients a day, most with severe malaria and pneumonia. The majority of the severe cases are referred to the hospital which is about a 2 hour drive away. In addition, the clinic does HIV testing and educational lectures each morning. Testing for CD4 counts must be sent to the hospital and results take 2-4 days. But HIV test results can be given within 30 minutes. The doctor mentioned that when HIV was first discovered in Malawi in the 1980s over 80% of the population was HIV positive. Today that figure sits somewhere around 20%. Anti-retrovirals and condoms are given out free from the clinic when either one is actually in stock. Some of the items this clinic needs most are; anti-retrovirals, antibiotics to treat pneumonia and malaria medication. They also need money for electricity which has been installed but the funding is not there to turn it on. Soap both for laundry and for patients are among the other items on the top on the wanted list. Donations can be sent to:

Chitimba Health Centre
PO Box 42
Chitimba Malawi, Central Africa

Once again I suggest you do some extensive research and send gifts in kind over monetary donations as some supplies are difficult to obtain in Malawi.

When we finally got back to the campsite it was almost noon and we were too hot and sweaty to do anything else besides lay around on the couches under the shade of the bar and consume as much water as physically possible. The temperature went up to 48 degrees Celsius that day and the fact that we were beside the lake did not make much of a difference. The air was completely still with no breeze and the humidity was completely unforgiving. The temperature remained in the 40s overnight, another night where any attempt at sleep was completely futile.

woke up the next day exhausted, dehydrated and too dizzy to sit up. When I finally willed myself to get out of bed I was so dizzy I lost my vision and stumbled to the washroom getting sick all along the way. Hoe Yin, my roommate finally brought me some water and when I could eventually see again I stumble back to my room to choke down a couple of anti-nausea tablets. I managed to keep down a 500ml bottle of water and dragged myself under the flow of a cold shower where I stood for the next 20 minutes trying to regain my balance. I was unable to eat anything for breakfast and laid on the cushions under the shade of the bar fighting off sleep and flies until the truck finally showed up in working condition to take us to the next campsite. When the truck finally showed up some of my fellow travelers helped me load my luggage and I laid down across two empty seats to sleep until we came to the next big city where we stopped to do some shopping. At the next stop I was feeling slightly better so I climbed out of the truck to get something to eat and something cold to drink at a cafΓ©. The only thing to eat in the cafΓ© was a chocolate bar and they were completely out of cold drinks. I went next door to the supermarket had didn’t have much luck there either. Feeling miserable I bought a bottle of water from the supermarket and a chocolate bar from the cafΓ©, consumed them as quickly as I could open them and crawled back on the truck to sleep until we got to the next campsite.

The campsite and Kandi beach was much nicer than the first campsite with clean facilities and a shaded area to pitch our tents. After dinner, a shower and a walk along the beach I went to bed early. I woke up the next morning finally feeling like myself again. A few of us decided to rent a paddle boat and take turns swimming and paddling out to the island that was about a kilometer away from the shore. Lake Malawi is known for it’s colourful fish. When we got to the island which we named β€œbug island” because of all of the flies, we spend a few hours jumping off rocks and snorkelling to see all of the colourful fish, they are so bright you would swear you are swimming in salt rather than fresh water. That night was a bit of a party on the beach. We had a few beers at the campsite bar and headed down to the beach for a campfire in the sand as well as some traditional drumming and dancing with some of the locals. It was pretty amazing to be sitting on the beach of Lake Malawi having a campfire and dancing under the stars. It was the first time I truly enjoyed being in the country since I had arrived.

The rest of my time in Malawi was spent relaxing and recovering on the beach. I didn’t have the best experience in Malawi but I will have to go back and give it another chance.