Sunday Morning ~ Rotterdam
August 26, 2018
The travel goddesses had been so good to us. We went over 12,000 kilometers with hardly a problem. We had two slow leaks in tires that got repaired before they became flats, and that was it. We were so lucky considering some of the gravel roads we traveled for miles on end. And aside from the expected bureaucracy at borders, we really didn’t have many hassles, until we got back to the Malawian border post, later than we’d wanted on Thursday afternoon.
We always plan an hour at the border, never knowing exactly how long the lines will be or what forms and fees will have to be paid. We’d driven from Lusaka, Zambia where we stayed with friends on Wednesday night. It took an hour getting through the city when we set off and since we had 700 kilometers to cover we were hoping our luck held. The road was good and we made it to the border in nine hours. George wasn’t feeling well, we think having something to do with the ribs he ate the night before, so I did all the driving that day. We figured since we were reentering Malawi, it might be smooth and we’d be through in thirty minutes or so, but when I handed over my passport, I was told my visa had expired and I needed a new one. For some reason, a mistake was made with my work permit, which is supposed to be good for two months after the contract is finished. George’s was good until August 30th, but mine expired on June 30th. I never even gave it a thought. I told them I was only going back into the country in order to fly out again, but they didn’t care. They let me get a transient visa for $50 instead of the 30 day one for $75, but that took some time. Then George discovered when he was clearing the car to cross into Malawi that they changed the rules about the temporary export permit you have to get in order to bring a car out of the country. When George got the original permit it was for 90 days, but they changed it to 30 days while we were gone. That meant we had to pay a fine, which also took some time. No amount of making the point that the rule was not in existence when we left made any difference to the woman behind the counter. She didn’t give a shit about what the rules were then. This is what they are now and we had to pay if we wanted to cross. I had a plane to catch the next day, George was sick, I was tired from driving, it was getting dark, we just wanted to get to Lilongwe, so we paid the bloody fine. It was expensive coming back.
And the road! For two months we’d been driving on vacant roads. Many were rough, and some had huge potholes, but they were people-less. The minute we got back into Malawi we remembered how difficult it is to drive with hundreds of people all over the roads, many carrying huge loads on the back of bikes. Swerving around them is dangerous as the roads are narrow with no shoulder and there is constant oncoming traffic. It’s stressful. And it was getting dark. I glanced at the last of my African sunsets in the side mirror as we drove due east, wishing I was sitting and savoring instead of trying not to get killed. We were another 100 kilometers to Lilongwe and it felt like 1,000 as I passed pedestrians and bicyclists with a millimeter to spare. Oncoming headlights appearing to be in our lane did not make it easier. We finally made it to the city and could not see a thing and didn’t know what road we were on. We passed signs but couldn’t read them in the pitch dark. By sheer luck we ended up on the road to our hotel. It was a miracle.
We checked in and George went straight to bed feeling sicker and sicker. I went straight to the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. “Ah, sorry, we have no tonic water”, was the waiter’s reply. Yup. We were back. I ordered a salad. “Ah, sorry, we have no lettuce”, was the response. I just started laughing and said, “Ok, let’s save some time here and just tell me what you do have.” Cider and noodle soup was it and then a sleepless night of worrying about fitting everything into my bags.
My flight on Friday was at 2 p.m. so it seemed like there was time to pack in the morning and collect the stuff I’d left at the Peace Corps office. George left the hotel to walk to the office as he had some errands to do on the way. I packed up what I needed and drove over to the office. We’d planned to go through the stuff in the car and organize what we were giving away and what George would take home in his luggage. We had a couple of hours to do this before I headed to the airport and he headed back to Blantyre to sell the car. I pulled into a parking space and didn’t see the cement culvert that I rammed into, cracking the gear box (I think that’s what it was) that leaked all the transmission fluid out and prevented me from shifting the car into reverse. I freaked as I watched this stuff pouring out from underneath the car. I must say, George took it well. This car is his baby and I expected him to have a conniption, thinking this was totaled or something. The Peace Corps mechanic reassured me it was repairable and by the time I’d gotten my bags out of the car, they already had it up on blocks discussing how to fix it. I couldn’t watch. I reorganized my stuff, left a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fit, and got a taxi to the airport. And after being together 24/7 for the past two months I barely got to say goodbye to George as he was running around buying stuff to fix the car. I felt terrible. Plus I was leaving him with a mess. We’d been living out of the car and there was a lot to clean out. I left the car full of dirty camping equipment, maps, dirty clothes, empty water bottles, and other stuff I didn’t even want to look at, up on blocks with fluid leaking and engine parts strewn about. I should have taken a photo but couldn’t even look at it. George, still not feeling well, had to deal with it then drive five more hours to Blantyre. The taxi came, I got dropped at the airport, and I boarded a plane for Addis Ababa then Amsterdam.
So here I am in a comfy hotel in Rotterdam getting ready to present tomorrow about the midwifery ward at the International Confederation for Nurses in Advanced Practice. It’s a mental shift. Ursula is here as well and we’ve managed to get a night’s sleep, revise the presentation, practice it, and register for the meeting. The internet works, the toilets flush, the showers have hot water, and the entire population of this country look like the picture of health. I did a ten mile run this morning and must have passed a hundred tall skinny people running rings around me.
The car is fixed and will be handed over tomorrow to it’s new owner. A new chapter is beginning.
Love to all,