Life, Love and Laughter Amid the Beautiful Chaos of Malawi

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December 29th 2011
Published: February 28th 2012
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After an amazing 4 months, my time in Malawi has come to an end. It was incredibly sad to have to say goodbye to Malawi and all the animals at the centre and the wonderful friends I've made, but I promised them that I'll be back as soon as I can.

Living in Malawi was such an incredible experience and I've learnt so much about so many things. I can't even begin to tell you all the things I've learnt, but I'll give you a brief insight:

-Babies (in my case, animal babies) may be cute but they're a lot of work, especially when they're hungry or tired and throw temper tantrums. I'm definitely not ready for a baby of my own for quite a while!

-It's difficult to be a minority and have to deal with all of the stares, comments and assumptions.

-The average Malawian earns 10,000MK/$60/€45 per month.

-Malawians have a wonderful community mentality. They share everything they have, including food, clothes and child rearing.

-African pop music is awesome and very similar to Western pop music.

-Malawians are always so clean and their white clothes are always spotless. I, on the other hand, was always covered in dust, dirt, food or animal wee and my white clothes instantly turned red/brown.

-An average Malawian spends about $1/€0.75 per day on food.

-I could happily go for days eating only mangoes and popcorn.

-Fluoro green coloured snakes are surprisingly hard to see. I almost stepped on 3 of them in the space of a few weeks.

-Buses in Malawi generally don't run to a schedule, they simply leave when they're full. And the Malawian definition of full is not having a single patch of empty space on the bus, which meant people either sitting or standing in the aisle. It was pretty common to be sharing the bus with about 70/80 other people.

-It's possible to live with very few possessions and very little money and still be happy with life. My eyes have been opened to a whole new way of life!

-Trying to cook dinner with no electricity, no chopping board, while sitting on the concrete floor and cooking using a charcoal burner is incredibly frustrating.

-It's customary for people you're walking with to offer to carry your bags for you. It's
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There were frogs everywhere in the bathroom.
also customary for you to be escorted part or all of the way home when you've been to visit a friend at their home.

-Never take washing machines or showers for granted!

-Nothing ever gets done on time or in a hurry. Everything works on 'African time'. Meaning that everything takes a lot longer to happen than it should. That includes taking 23 hours to travel 570km by bus.

-Girls are expected to do all of the housework in Malawi. Even if there’s only one girl and five boys in family, and the girl’s the youngest, she’s the one who does all the cleaning and cooking, while the boys sit around doing nothing.

-There’s a huge divide between the lifestyles of the whites/rich blacks in Malawi and everyone else.

-It’s not nice to get rained on when you’re inside a house.

-Malawians love it when a white person wears a chitenje, eats nsima and tries to speak Chichewa. A lot of my friends proudly claimed that I’d become a ‘Malawian lady’.

I spent my last 6 weeks in Malawi travelling and being on holiday, after 3 months of working at the wildlife centre. I did go back to the centre quite often during those 6 weeks though because I missed seeing all of my friends who work there. I also helped out and worked a little bit, such as working for the 3 day Wild Kidz camp, which was a lot of fun.

My first travel week was spent in Zambia, which actually turned out to be a lot like Malawi. A friend from Lilongwe and I went to South Luangwa National Park to go on safari for a couple of days. The safaris were awesome, we saw almost every possible animal - giraffes, baboons, monkeys, lions, buffalo, warthogs, elephants, antelope, a hyena, hippos, genets, a leopard, crocodiles and vultures.
We even saw a leopard kill a young impala and begin to eat it.

One night in the campsite we were staying at, a trio of elephants came into the campsite and went to eat leaves from a tree right outside the door to the kitchen where my friend was making dinner. It was amazing, she was literally about 1m from them! Then a bit later when I was in the kitchen, the elephants came to the
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We were so excited to see the giraffes.
area behind the kitchen and we could watch them walking around finding things to eat. They're such beautiful animals.

After Zambia, my friend Vicky and I separated - she went back to Malawi to work and I stayed in Zambia to explore a little longer. I stayed one night in Chipata and then headed to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. While I was in Lusaka I stayed with the friend of one of my friends at the centre. Liz lives with her niece and 5 children in a 2 room house in a compound area of Lusaka. I'd never met them or had anything to do with them before, so I was a little nervous about just turning up and staying with people I didn't know but they turned out to be the most welcoming, friendliest people!

I had a really nice time with them in Lusaka, visiting their family and friends, playing with some of the daughters and basically just experiencing how they live. It did get a bit stifling at times though, as there were times when I felt a bit like an animal in a zoo because the areas we were
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Pretty carmine bee-eaters.
going to and where they live aren't areas that white people would often go to. Which meant that I got a huge amount of attention, although that's nothing out of the ordinary. But every now and then it was just too much, like when we were waiting at the doctor's and an older drunk guy decided that I was his wife and that I'd come to marry him and that I was the one for him. He didn't let up for about 1 & 1/2 hours, even following me into the waiting room and telling everyone how I'm his wife and how he loves me so much. It wasn't a nice experience and I really couldn't wait to get out of there.

Anyway, I finally did get out of there and spent a whole day sitting on various buses/minibuses/shared taxis getting back to the relative comfort and familiarity of Malawi and Lilongwe. I stayed a couple of days back in Lilongwe and then it was time for my next trip, to the south of Malawi with 2 fellow volunteers (Sarah & Cat) and Sarah's friend Lucy. We hired a car to drive down there, which ended
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Vicky and I with elephants in the background.
up being almost more trouble than it was worth. We spent almost our whole first day hanging around Blantyre just trying to find some diesel - we were over the moon when someone took us to buy some hugely over-priced black market diesel! Then later on in the trip the car decided that it didn't want to change gears while the car was moving and that it'd only change gears when the car was stopped. Certainly made for interesting driving!

The south of Malawi is such a beautiful area, it's so green, lush and mountainous and such a contrast from the central region! We spent a couple of days at the Satemwa Tea Estate near Thyolo, where we were surrounded by fields of tea plants, like a huge sea of bright green.

After the tea estate, it was off to Mulanje, a small town close by at the base of Mount Mulanje, which at 3004m is Malawi's highest mountain. It was so incredibly beautiful - as we were driving towards Mulanje we were all staring out the window at the huge mountain that was looming on the horizon. Such an amazing sight.

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One of the thousands of antelope.
didn't even consider attempting to climb the mountain but we took the easy option of a 1.5hr walk up to a waterfall. The views were beautiful but really, who would ever want to exercise in Malawi? We were completely covered in sweat after only half an hour!

After a very slow trip back to Blantyre from Mulanje and a trip to the mechanic's, the other girls headed to the lake and I stayed behind in Blantyre. I wanted to check out Blantyre and nearby Zomba, as I'd heard good things about both of them.

Blantyre's a city in the south of Malawi and is the 2nd largest city in Malawi and the commercial and financial centre of the country. It definitely feels much more like a city than Lilongwe does, with an actual city centre, shopping centres and big buildings. I really liked Blantyre, it was an interesting city with more to do than in Lilongwe and the surrounding areas were really beautiful, with mountains and forests.

While I was in Blantyre I took a couple of days out to go to nearby Zomba, a small city that used to be the capital of Malawi until 1974, when the capital was moved to Lilongwe. The Zomba Plateau is right next to the city and apparently really beautiful, with wonderful views from the top. I really wanted to go up there but the day we were there was just way too hot to go walking up any plateaus.

We went to the Zomba Botanic Gardens though, which were absolutely beautiful, full of monkeys and just so green! Apart from that, the time in Zomba was basically just spent playing lots of games of bawo (which I started to become pretty damn good at) and wandering through the markets, while trying to avoid the heat and the sun. I also took the opportunity to buy some presents for myself and other people at the markets because it was way more laidback and enjoyable buying from the markets there than buying from the markets in Lilongwe. The markets in Lilongwe were just crazy and way too stressful for me - the sellers would rush over and form a huge crowd around any white person, insisting that you go and look at their things. Showing any interest in anything was always a bad idea
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Just chilling out in the tree.
unless you genuinely wanted to buy it, cos they'd never let you get away without buying it. And even if you weren't buying anything and just waiting for a friend, which I almost always was, they'd still insist on showing you their paintings, carvings, jewellery, etc.

After Zomba and Blantyre, I headed back to Lilongwe for 2 days to just rest a bit, move my stuff out of the volunteer house at the centre and catch up with friends I hadn’t seen for a while. It was always really nice to go back to the centre and see my friends because they were always so happy to see me again.

My initial plan for what was meant to be my final week in Malawi was to spend a couple of days in Livingstonia (a colonial town in the mountains in northern Malawi), a few days at Nkhata Bay (a village on the northern lakeshore that’s popular with travellers) and then spend my last 5 days back in Lilongwe, volunteering at the centre and catching up with friends.

My plans ended up changing drastically – I never went to Livingstonia because
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The pool at the place we stayed.
it was just too far away and too hard to get to. I spent 5 days in Nkhata Bay and I’m so glad I decided to do that instead - I was feeling really ready for just relaxing and not doing much at all.

Nkhata Bay was such a beautiful place to stay, it had really nice bays, a nice village, really green forests and water full of brightly-coloured fish. We stayed in a little hut literally right by the water and the days were filled with hanging out on our balcony, going for dips in the water, eating mangoes from the mango tree near our hut, playing bawo, going for walks in the village… I would’ve happily stayed there much longer if I could have.

Unfortunately, we had to head back to Lilongwe on Friday because I was meant to be flying to Europe the following Tuesday. However, as the result of several small breakdowns and anxiety attacks at the thought of leaving Malawi, I made a very last-minute change to my flight date (with a lot of help from my dad) and ended up buying myself another 10 days in
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Cooling down in the pool.

I spent the first 3 days of my bonus 10 days working at the wildlife centre and helping out with the Wild Kidz camp. It was much less stressful than the last camp, as I wasn’t organising it, and it was a lot of fun. Most of the kids were the same as on the last camp and it was great to see them all again.

Then it was off to the lake again to do some more relaxing. This time we went to Senga Bay, which is the part of the lake that’s closest to Lilongwe. We spent Saturday night at a music festival being held on the shore of the lake and got to see a few well-known Malawian groups, which was a lot of fun. I was ridiculously tired though and kept falling asleep on the sand – by the time we finally left at 3 or 4am I was freezing cold and super, super tired. Which meant that I was also pretty grumpy.

The next day we were entertained by a church group that came to shoot a music video at the backpacker’s lodge we were staying
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Vicky chilling in the hammock.
at. Church groups in Africa often make music videos for their various religious songs and then get them played on tv. I find it quite funny because the men and boys always wear suits, the women and girls wear traditional dresses, and they dance and sing in the most mundane places, such as by the side of a road, in front of a characterless city building, next to a shop, etc. However, their dancing almost makes up for it all, because no matter how little they are moving, or how little effort they put into it, every person I saw dancing in Africa always looked like such a great dancer! I’m super jealous that they all just seem to have genetics that makes them great dancers, singers and musicians.

On our last day we went for a walk to find the hippo pools that I’d heard about, because we both wanted to see the hippos. However, what we were told was a two hour return trip ended up being more like a four hour return trip. We were sent all over the place – over hills, through fishing villages, along beaches, through forests… And when we finally
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Some kids in the village of Mfuwe.
got there, all we saw was one hippo that was almost completely submerged in the water!

Apart from these adventures, most of the time was spent swimming in the lake, lying on deck chairs under the jacaranda trees, eating $1.50 meals of nsima, beans and vegetables at the market, eating mangoes, popcorn and peanut butter on bread and playing bawo. By this stage I’d played bawo so often that I was actually winning the majority of the games, which wasn’t taken too well!

After a 6 hour trip back to Lilongwe from Senga Bay (they’re only 150km apart!), I set about preparing to leave Malawi. Seems like I just wasn’t meant to leave Malawi, because 1 & ½ days before I was meant to fly out, I got mugged and had my bag stolen, which had my passport and my laptop in it. I was physically fine, but pretty shaken up about the whole thing and ended up having to extend my stay another 6 days. I wasn’t sure whether or not everything I needed to leave the country would be ready in time and I didn’t want to leave feeling so upset and
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They loved having their picture taken.
with no time to say goodbye to my friends.

Staying an extra 6 days meant that I ended up having Christmas in Malawi. I spent 3 days over Christmas in Limbe, which is a town next to Blantyre, with Gabbie’s family. It was interesting to see how Malawians celebrate Christmas. Even though most of them are Christian and very religious, almost everyone (besides the rich Malawians) doesn’t do anything to celebrate Christmas. There aren’t even special church services on Christmas day. I was really surprised by the complete lack of celebration considering how religious they all are. I think the main reason is simply the lack of resources and money. Most people can hardly afford general living expenses, let alone special food for Christmas, Christmas decorations or Christmas presents.

So my Christmas was pretty much a non-event, and ended up being just like any other day of the year. It was nice to be with a family at Christmas though, despite the fact that we did nothing to celebrate.

My final few days in Malawi were spent packing my bag, getting things sent to Australia, catching up with friends and buying last-minute souvenirs and necessities. They were quite hectic as I’d managed to collect quite a few things during my time in Malawi and getting it to all fit in my bag was a challenge! On my last morning in Lilongwe, I went to the wildlife centre to say goodbye to all of my friends there. It was really sad saying goodbye to them because they’d become such an important part of my life for the past 4 months and I don’t know when I’m going to see them all again. But I’m so glad to have met them all and to have spent a wonderful 4 months with them. They became like my surrogate family for 4 months and I can’t wait to see them again.

On the day I left, it had been really warm and sunny in the morning and just as I was leaving the wildlife centre to go to the airport, it got cold and cloudy and started pouring with rain. I like to think that Malawi was crying over me leaving the country, just as much as I was crying over leaving this beautiful country and my wonderful friends.

Additional photos below
Photos: 134, Displayed: 34


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South Luangwa National Park

On our way to the night safari.
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South Luangwa National Park

Hot and tired lions.

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Never seen red jacarandas
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Faith obviously loves the camera
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Did you have any customers in the shop?
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What an amazing life experience Kimberley! One that you'll always remember fondly. Happy adventures Light and blessings Annelise
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Did you like the cassava?
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Making a mess!!! You????
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I'm surprised that you could smile for the camera!

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