Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Kukhala kwa eni n’kuomba m’manja. ~ To stay well at someone else’s place is to clap your hands.

~ Chewa proverb

January 7, 2024

Hi Everyone!

The tropical air and vegetation, the people, the mountains, the place–– it feels really good to be back in Malawi. 

I spent my final days in UK in Covent Garden smack in the heart of London where my friend was staying in an apartment extraordinaire. That was a rather fabulous way to wind up my holiday. It was great to walk downstairs and emerge amid all the iconic sights right there in the neighborhood. Even in the rain it was smashing. On Wednesday, I took an easy tube ride back to Heathrow where I paid the ransom and retrieved my bags with stuff for the year. It’s funny, checking those bags in at Logan airport I was embarrassed by how much I had. Checking in at Ethiopian Airlines at Heathrow? I felt like I was traveling light. Two fifty pound bags? Nothing. People all around me had twice that at least. All checked and securitized and I was overnight to Addis Ababa and a mere four hour layover there before being Malawi bound. 

Arrival at the airport in Blantyre was sweet. Even my sleep-deprived, head-cold riddled brain perked up at the arrival. I’d been instructed to get a thirty-day tourist visa then apply for a residency permit through the embassy, so that was simple. The lines were long and slow but it felt like initiation into life here. Collecting my bags was the anticipated mob scene; luggage is strewn over the floor with no room to move the trolley (or even get a trolley). For the price of a Fanta, however, a guy in a yellow vest grabbed my bags and helped me out to where my taxi driver, Hastings, was waiting. I’d sent Hastings a What’s App message from London asking if he still had a taxi and he said he’d be there to collect me. It’s not that I couldn’t have gotten a random taxi, but it’s a little nicer (and safer) to have one tried and true. The airport actually has wifi! That was a nice surprise since I hadn’t international service. I let him know I was there and would be coming. He said he’d already been there an hour waiting but his reply was “I am here. Take your time. Don’t worry.” We loaded my bags into his beaten up car, I ran to the ATM which actually produced some cash, and we were off. He has aged. I almost didn’t recognize him. I asked him how things were and he said it’s been hard. I noticed less traffic and many fewer cars. He said people can’t afford to drive. The Kwacha was devalued in November by forty four percent. My tired brain could not process what this meant. Does that mean things are cheaper or more expensive? I didn’t ask. I knew from his tone it was bad for him. Probably the opposite for those with dollars though. I’m still doing the calculating.

This is the first time I have ventured into an overseas work experience on my own without being part of a group. With Pearce Corps, SEED, and MSF, there was a structure to the arrival with being met at the airport, handed a visa, transported to a venue where there was an orientation. This is very much a solitary experience. Since this place is familiar to me I have an advantage. I had the number to a taxi driver I trusted, and roughly knew where the lodging was located (though, I am finding I have underestimated distances and have the blistered feet to prove it). The faculty is almost the same, though I haven’t met with them yet. They are still on holiday break until tomorrow, but at least I know them and they know me. My grant doesn’t start until the 15th but I will go over to see them tomorrow just to say hi, then continue my search for housing. I have a couple of options, neither of which are ideal but I can go month by month and see if something better comes along. 

I’ve booked four nights at this lodge knowing I can extend if I want. It’s definitely further from work than I recalled but I had planned to find someplace closer by the time I start working. When I mentioned to the receptionist I’d be looking for a place to live she said she knew a furnished apartment right across the street. I went over there to have a look and it is certainly adequate for one person, dirt cheap, and seems safe enough. I’m not sure what I am basing the safety issue on, perhaps the landlady’s assurance that it was “yes, yes, very safe.” It’s a bit close to the road, though, it is the end of a dirt road with little traffic. I’m trying to decide if that’s good or bad. But, it is right across from this lodge which has great wifi. I could come over and have a beer and do my sending and receiving. I’m considering that for a temporary solution. Having someone provide housing (ie. an NGO) was definitely a huge perk. We lucked out last time and loved our house and its location. I tried to get it again but the landlady sold it and it is not available. So, a new adventure. 

I looked at another apartment close to the hospital. It’s a new complex, directly behind the new mosque, and is sterile and soulless. Surrounded by cement parking areas, they are advertised as luxury apartments. They are enormous and so is the price. I’m not living there. Plus I don’t want a 4:30 am wake up call every morning. I’d rather take the distant one and walk a couple of miles to work. In fact, when I think of it, I used to get home from work, drop my things, and go for a walk. I may as well just walk home. Or I’ll give Hastings a job. Lots of options here. 

I am deciding about getting a car. I hate to have another car on the roads here but it is so hard to get around without one. Within the city it’s fairly easy if you don’t mind walking, but to go anywhere afield, which, I will want to do, one really must have a car. There are so many beautiful places to visit within a few hours and I’d like to spend weekends taking advantage of that. I was messaging my former landlady and she has a car she wants to sell. She said I could drive it while she’s away for three weeks and decide if I want it. So, I’ll review the left sided rules and take her up on that!

I set out to go to church this morning but by the time I got there the mass was over. Another little mis-remembering of distances. Well, I sort of remembered the distance, I did not remember how much time it would take to walk. So I set off in a different direction to a coffee date with a woman I knew from before and did make it there in time. She invited me to go camping next weekend at Majete, a game park in the Shire Valley, a place I adore. Yay! Now I am super motivated to move into a place by then. 

I got back to the lodge just as the dark clouds were thickening and an hour later the heavens opened. African rain is truly something to see. Even the most violent downpour at home does not compare. Absolute sheets of heavy rain hammer down for maybe fifteen minutes, then what we would consider a torrential heavy downpour for another fifteen minutes, then a steady rain lingers for a few hours or sometimes all night. I find it so thrilling. I stood in my doorway eating a ripe mango, watching and smiling. 

Love to all,

Linda


One thought on “Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

  1. Danine Reply

    Sounds like a pretty good first few days! I love hearing about all the connections you still have from the last time.

    We are getting some light snow today, but not expecting real accumulation. Have a great week!

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