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Africa » Malawi » Central » Lilongwe
July 18th 2008
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: -13.9808, 33.7721

We woke at 3am to the sound of Keegan retching in the next room. This continued every 20 minutes or so, until we needed to arise at 4:45am for our 5am pick up. Our driver was a couple of minutes late but certainly no problems with traffic, not at that time of day. When we went to check in, we were told that our flight was cancelled, but we could be confirmed on a British Airways flight that left 30 minutes after our scheduled departure, so it wasn't bad at all.

We timed our trip through the short security line around Keegan's vomiting. On the plane, he went to vomit one more time before take off - the flight attendants heard him, put him in the rear row, then talked to us about taking him to the medical clinic. We agreed that this was a good idea.

Upon arrival in (a very cold - 4 degrees) Joburg, we were met by a customer service specialist who escorted us to the Med Clinic. While Paul and Kyla collected the luggage (we could not check through to Lilongwe), I took Keegan to the clinic. He was checked - temp, blood sugar, blood pressure - and they recommended an IV-drip with an anti-emetic. Go for it, we said. So he slept, and we waited for a bit until it seemed he was past vomiting. (Also to see if there were later flights to Lilongwe, which, of course, there weren't. None for the next two days, anyway.) When it became clear that we could fly - and absolutely needed to fly - Paul, Kyla, and I took the luggage to the International terminal and checked in for the Malawi flight. Once we had been scrutinized, Paul went back to fetch Keegan while Kyla and I paced the floor nervously, waiting for their return. It was actually fairly quick - Keegan in a wheelchair - and we were easily through security (no line) and passport control (no line). We checked duty free shops to see if any sold my camera (none did), then went out to the gate. Keegan looked terribly pale on the bus going out to the plane but no problems (whew). On the flight, I sat between the two kids, who took turns putting their heads in my lap, or resting against my shoulder.

Arriving Lilongwe, we were among the first through Immigration (no arrival cards distributed on the flight; annoying), then were waved through Customs. We met our driver, David, loaded our bags in the dusty van (a portent of things to come), and started our long drive to Cape Maclear.

The drive was very interesting; certainly a contrast to Cape Town. One small village led to another - each with the same collection of mud brick houses. Each village seemed to have a circular building, maybe 1.5 metres in diameter, set up on bricks ... we assumed for storing maize. Passed a tobacco factory, and David said tobacco was one of the most common crops in the region. Also saw sugarcane. There were very few other cars on the road - and virtually none were private; most were shared taxis or busses. Bikes and pedestrians were every common - as were goats - people were everywhere along the roadside - women carrying large loads of firewood, or pots, or bundles - men on bicycles with bags of fertilizer - kids driving ox carts - kids playing football, or with hoops - people selling tomatoes at roadside stands. We passed on two petrol stations that I saw on the four and a half hour drive. One town, Salima, had a large market - bustling with people, wares, colourful clothes, refuse everywhere, especially the thin, blue plastic bags that are used for wrapping purchases. We saw a few schools - no sign of school children, but probably after school hours - and an equal number of mosques and churches. Some kids in one village were walking along the road dressed, it appeared, for a ceremony: masks, feather boots, carrying sticks. Two were having fun sparring; the other two, a little distant, were just walking. But must have been "real" as there were no signs of tourists or the tourist trade. One Chinese restaurant (a windowless mud brick building with a red paper lantern and the words "Restorante Chinoise" on the outside) in one village - a clear anomaly, as we saw one or two "tea rooms" but nothing else resembling a restaurant. A couple of places labeled "guest house" in the larger villages but clearly designed for the local trade, not the Anglo-Euro market. No backpackers. Two villages in a row appeared to manufacture cane furniture ... wondered who are their customers. Tons of goats on the road, plus one pig, a few cows, a dog or cat or two, but goats everywhere. The land was much flatter than I expected, though there were hills in the distance, they were hard to see through all the smoke. Fires everywhere - along the side of the road, in the cane fields, on the hillsides, plus cooking fires in the homes - so a constant haze covers the whole region. People seemed healthy - reasonably well-fed, good teeth, all limbs - but we saw very few grey heads; maybe they're just not along the road. Still, given the health stats for the country ...

Around sunset, the paved road ended and a dirt road - that paralleled a new road under construction - began. Very dusty. We had noticed that very few of the houses had electricity - and we only saw two TV antennae once we were out of the capital - and the lack of electric power became very clear once it was dark. We had a full-harvest moon, so we could still see the silhouettes of people and villages. Each village seemed to have one or two public places that were electrified - usually through wire, not generators - but otherwise, the houses had kerosene lamps. Once, we saw a bonfire off in the distance and what appeared to be a whole village on the move (maybe it was because of the full moon).

The last bit of road into Cape Maclear was washboard-y, but we survived. (And Keegan had only been sick once the entire trip, since leaving Joburg.) The town was much larger than expected but still without infrastructure. We pulled into our lodge's compound and were greeted by the proprietor, shown our rooms. We washed up, then three of us had dinner (Keegan went to sleep). Finished the day with a dip in the "tepid tub" - then, to sleep! It's been a long day.

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