Published: March 1st 2012March 1st 2012
It was another long day of driving yesterday to Chitimba, where we finally got our first glimpse of Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa. It's the eighth largest lake in the world, and home to countless species of fish. I'd love to see the biggest lake in the world, because this one was really impressive, to the point that at first I automatically thought that we were driving by the sea before I realised that, miles away, I could make out the faint outline of the far shore.
Lake Malawi is a source of income for the locals, with many of them catching and selling fish from the lake or else catering to the tourism trade and offering snorkelling excursions to see the diverse underwater life that thrives there. The water is clean and warm, and you have to go out quite far before you can no longer stand up. There are plenty of activities to do around the lake, but I found that relaxing in a hammock with a book was just as enjoyable.
This morning we headed out on a village walk. I don't think any of us were overly excited by the prospect, but by
Malawi sunrise again, at 0530. Worth getting up for :-)
the end of it, we were all glad to have gone; this wasn't like any village walk we've done before. First of all, we were met outside our campsite by the Malawi boys who work on wood carving stalls there. They all give themselves outlandish names, ranging from the mildly odd such as Mr Nice Guy, Mr Cheap as Chips, Fantastic Steve and Buttons, to the bizarre. Step forward Vegemite, Vin Diesel, Daffy Duck and Prince William. Mr Nice Guy attached himself to me and explained that his real name was John, but he'd called himself Mr Nice Guy because he didn't believe in hassling people to buy from him. I decided to put that theory to the test later.
The boys took us to the local school first of all, where the younger children rushed out to meet us. Paper and pens are very much in demand there, and donations play an important part in the running of the school. They are very low on desks; only the oldest students, the fourteen and fifteen year olds, get to use desks, but even some of them have to sit on the floor because there just isn't enough desk space
Children at the school.
for all of them. A few of us donated money, and when the headmaster announced the amount to a class of nine year olds, they erupted into cheers. It was a touching moment, but bittersweet as well, that something so small could make them so happy.
We moved onto the village itself, where we met with a witch doctor. He did a strange dance meant to clear his mind, which involved a lot of hip shaking, and then he spoke to us about some of the herbal medicines that he uses. The hangover cure was the most depleted bottle, but there were also medicines to cure stomach pains and headaches, as well as concoctions to solve love issues. After, I had my fortune told by the witch doctor, and I wasn't really convinced. He did say some pretty spot-on things, but coincidentally, they were things I had discussed with Mr Nice Guy prior to arriving at the village. Still, he did tell me that one day I'll have three children, and that I'll like my husband. I think that me liking my husband will be a minimum requirement.
Our final stop was the local hospital. It was everything
One of the boys from the school.
you see on African aid adverts and more. Sick people lined the hallways, so many that there weren't enough chairs and some of them had to sit on the floor whilst they waited to be seen. There's one doctor for the whole hospital, and he quite literally works twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The smell of sickness throughout the place was overwhelming. Our guide gave us permission to take pictures of the patients, but none of us did. I can't think of anything more disrespectful.
The maternity ward was heartbreaking. Broken beds, dirty mattresses, one bar of soap, nothing to clean the floor with, flies everywhere...and there in the middle of it were two women with their newborn babies. A boy and a girl, both born just hours before. It stunned me into silence in a way that nothing else so far has. I spent the rest of the hospital tour in tears, glad that I was wearing sunglasses and that it was so hot that the sweat on my face disguised the tears. That said, I'm fairly sure I wasn't the only one crying. I did see a couple of not-surreptitious-enough eye rubs from some
The witch doctor doing his dance.
of the others.
I donated money to the hospital, but it didn't make me feel good or happy. It didn't make me think that it would make a difference. Maybe my donation will buy some bars of soap or a couple of malaria testing kits, I don't know. Something like this needs so much more than the occasional handouts from tourists. And until the hospital gets that, the doctor and his nurses are going to be fighting one difficult and futile battle, and the life expectancy (50) and the infant mortality rate (89 deaths per one thousand live births) are going to stay right where they are.
There are more photos below